By Elaine Magliaro
On December 20, 1994, The New York Times reported the death of a twenty-nine-year-old Bronx man named Anthony Ramon Baez. The article’s headline read: “Clash Over a Football Ends With a Death in Police Custody.” Clifford Krauss, the author of the article, said that the tragic story began “with an errant football hitting a police patrol car early on the morning of Dec. 22…” Krauss reported that police claimed Baez had died of an asthma attack while he was being arrested for disorderly conduct. The dead man’s family, however, “accused the police of choking him to death.” Krauss said that “the Medical Examiner’s office indicated that the cause of death was probably asphyxiation.”
I should note that Baez had never been in trouble with the law.
Last August, Jim Dwyer wrote an article for The New York Times titled Two Fatal Police Encounters, but Just One Video in which he described a photograph of Baez that was shown in court.
In a photograph shown in court, the lids of the dead man’s left eye were held open by fingers in a yellow glove. Around the white of his eye was a bright red ring left by tiny blood vessels that had burst as he was dying.
His tongue was swollen; there was hemorrhaging in his windpipe; his neck had bruises on the left and right sides.
This past Thursday, Conor Friedersdorf (The Atlantic) provided context for that officer-involved homicide in his article titled Eric Garner and the NYPD’s History of Deadly Chokeholds.
…Anthony Ramon Baez was throwing a football with his brothers “when two throws within minutes of each other hit two separate parked police patrol cars near the corner of Cameron Place and Jerome Avenue in the University Heights section of the Bronx. Neither the Police Department nor the family…suggested that the ball was thrown at the cars intentionally.” According to the man’s family, “two officers grabbed Mr. Baez around the neck and handcuffed him for no good reason.”
As Friedersdorf put it: “He was killed for the sake of playing street football’.
An NYPD officer named Francis Livoti was charged with criminally negligent homicide in the case and acquitted. Dwyer wrote that the “judge overseeing the state manslaughter trial of Mr. Livoti said he regarded the testimony as a ‘nest of perjury’ but decided that the charges had not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Federal prosecutors–who were unbound by double jeopardy–then stepped in. Officer Livoti was later convicted in a Federal court of violating Baez’s civil rights in 1998. It was reported that he was sentenced to serve seven years in a federal prison. Friedersdorf said the NYPD settled a lawsuit over the case for $3 million that same year.
Excerpt from Friedersdorf’s article:
In a deposition of Mr. Livoti’s former commander taken by the Baez family’s lawyers, the supervisor, William Casey, testified that nine police brutality complaints had been lodged against Mr. Livoti before the 1994 death of Mr. Baez, yet senior police officials had rejected a recommendation by the commander that Mr. Livoti be transferred to a clerical job or a less stressful precinct.
The testimony indicated that the transfer was rejected because Mr. Livoti was a police union delegate and was protected by connections high up in the chain of command. In addition to the department’s handling of Mr. Livoti and the abuse complaints against him, the civil lawsuit highlighted the roles of other police officers who were on the scene when Mr. Livoti was accused of using the illegal chokehold.
Even with the NYPD’s history of killing people with chokeholds that violate policy, hundreds of non-lethal violations of that policy every year, indisputable video evidence of multiple officers blithely ignoring the fact that a colleague was violating that policy, and their subsequent dishonesty about the chokehold when filing a report on the incident, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton still had the brass to say earlier this year that “he would not support a law to make chokeholds illegal, insisting that a departmental prohibition is enough.” He also said, “I think there are more than sufficient protocols in place to address a problem.” In context, that’s sufficiently absurd to cast a shadow over the man’s honor. It’s hard to believe it won’t come up when New York City is sued for negligence.
Dwyer wrote that from its beginning on Cameron Place, the case “was obscured by tangled, contradictory narratives. No dispassionate video was available because no surveillance cameras were in place on the street, and cellphones with video recorders were virtually unheard-of in 1994.”
Hamilton Nolan (Gawker) reported that as recently as this past September, Commissioner Bratton said, “I don’t feel that there’s a law that’s necessary to deal with that issue. I think there are more than sufficient protocols in place to address a problem.”
As the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death is set free, you may be wondering: aren’t police chokeholds illegal? They are not. They are only against NYPD policy. That is not by mistake. After Garner’s death, members of the New York City Council proposed (and are still proposing) a law against police chokeholds. Commissioner Bratton told the commissioners at the time that he would not support such a law, “insisting that a departmental prohibition is enough.”
Nolan thinks Bratton is wrong about that. Nolan thinks it’s time to pass the law. What do you think?
Clash Over a Football Ends With a Death in Police Custody (New York Times)
Two Fatal Police Encounters, but Just One Video (New York Times)