Unequal Disciplinary Actions for Officers After Shooting Deaths
By Gary Minor, Criminal Justice faculty at American Military University
In recent months, the news has been rife with stories about police officers shooting and killing civilians. While each incident has unique aspects, there are also commonalities. One question that remains unanswered by the law enforcement community is: If an investigation finds no criminal behavior by the victim, should disciplinary action be taken against the officer(s)?
To examine this question, here are two cases that have interesting similarities, but have very different outcomes for the officers involved:
Officer Christopher Manney of the Milwaukee Police Department responded to a call of a man sleeping on a park bench. He encountered Donte Hamilton and an altercation occurred when Officer Manney tried to frisk Hamilton. Manney lost his nightstick and Hamilton began beating the officer with it. Manney shot Hamilton 14 times and stopped once he went down.
Manney suffered minor injuries, including a bite to his right thumb, a neck strain, and a neck contusion, according to the report. He was treated for post-concussion syndromes and a mild traumatic brain injury and had physical therapy for bicep and rotator cuff injuries.
New York Case
Officer Daniel Pantaleo was trying to arrest Eric Garner for selling “loosies,” a street name for single cigarettes (worth about $.25 cents). An altercation began between the officer and Garner. A bystander recorded the incident on a cell phone, which clearly showed Pantaleo using a chokehold. During the altercation, Garner was heard pleading, “I can’t breathe.”
The NYPD forbade the use of chokeholds in 1983, stating it could only be used when an officer’s life was in danger. Former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly banned the use of chokeholds altogether in 1993.
Commonalities of the Cases
In both of these cases, the victim was committing a minor offense. One was sleeping on a park bench; the other was selling untaxed cigarettes. Neither incident warranted violent responses.
[Related Article: Use of Deadly Force on Fleeing Criminals]
A second commonality is the victims themselves. Both men suffered from schizophrenia, a disorder characterized by extreme oddities in perception, thinking, and behavior. Individuals often suffer from a significant loss of contact with reality.
Garner had 31 arrests, many of which were for selling cigarettes. There is no information about Hamilton’s prior arrests. However, it is apparent that both officers had knowledge that the victims were mentally ill.
A third commonality involves departmental policy concerning the arrests. In the Hamilton case, the Milwaukee Police Department had policies against treating the mentally ill as criminals. While New York does not seem to have such a policy, they do have a specific policy against the use of chokeholds. In both cases, the department’s policy was violated and those violations led to a person’s death.
The difference is in how the policy issues were settled.
The Aftermath of Officer-Involved Shootings
In the Milwaukee case, officer Manney was terminated. His actions, which violated department policy, led to the death of a mentally ill person.
In New York, officer Pantaleo has not been terminated, nor even disciplined despite being involved in several other questionable incidents. Prior to the Garner death, Rylawn Walker, 19, and Kenneth Smith, 22, were approached, arrested, and charged because of false representations by Pantaleo stating that they possessed marijuana and were present during a raid on a sixth-floor apartment.
In another incident in 2012, Pantaleo and another officer strip searched two men, Darren Collins and Tommy Rice, pulling down their pants and underwear in broad daylight. In a third incident in 2014, Pantaleo crashed his police vehicle into Leonardo Aguirre’s car causing injuries to Aguirre’s neck, back, shoulder, and knees. Officer Pantaleo has had numerous lawsuits filed, some settled. However, no discipline appears to be forthcoming.
The way in which departments proceed after officers are involved in fatal shootings—regardless of the scenario—is an important part of agency policy. Not only should officers be informed about the consequences of failing to follow policies, but it is important for the public to know the policy as well. It is vital that agencies define their response to scenarios where victims have no criminal behavior leading up to a shooting before they are faced with such situations.
About the Author: Gary Minor completed his bachelor’s degree in Police Science and Administration with a minor in pre-law from Washington State University and his MBA in Information Systems at City University in Washington. After completing his MBA, he attended Seattle University School of Law and obtained his Juris Doctorate of law. He also obtained his police executive certification, a requirement to be a police chief executive of a law enforcement agency in Washington. His academic interests include police executive management, law and justice, juvenile justice and ethics in law enforcement. Professor Minor has significant executive experience, having served as a Chief of Police, President of the Snohomish County Police and Sheriff’s association and the South Snohomish County Police Advisory committee. He also served two terms as the Chairman of the Board for Emergency Services Coordinating Agency (ESCA), a FEMA affiliate.