On the Subject of Chokeholds and the NYPD: The Story of Anthony Ramon Baez, a Bronx Man Who Died in Police Custody in 1994

Bill Bratton NYPD Commissioner

Bill Bratton
NYPD Commissioner

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.

Dwyer:

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.

Friedersdorf:

…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.”

Nolan:

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?

SOURCES

Eric Garner and the NYPD’s History of Deadly Chokeholds: The context for another officer-involved homicide (The Atlantic)

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)

Reminder: This NYPD Chief Fought to Keep Chokeholds Legal (Gawker)

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12 Responses to On the Subject of Chokeholds and the NYPD: The Story of Anthony Ramon Baez, a Bronx Man Who Died in Police Custody in 1994

  1. eniobob says:

    “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.”

    Here’s an unintended consequences of the Eric Garner case and Staten Island and the Presidents nominee for Attorney General Lorretta Lynch.What was going on kind of quiet will now get a lot of light and**** what indictments mean on Staten Island N.Y.****

    “Trial for indicted Rep. Michael Grimm set for after the November election
    Grimm, a Republican facing a challenge from Democrat Domenic Recchia, is facing a 20-count indictment accusing him of cooking the books for a Manhattan health food restaurant.
    BY Oren Yaniv
    NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
    Published: Tuesday, September 2, 2014, 2:06 PM
    Updated: Tuesday, September 2, 2014, 5:27 PM”

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/trial-indicted-rep-michael-grimm-set-november-election-article-1.1924959

  2. Elaine M. says:

    NYC Council Bills Take Aim At Police Chokeholds, Stop-And-Frisk
    November 13, 2014 4:06 PM
    http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/11/13/city-council-bill-would-outlaw-police-chokeholds/

  3. Elaine M. says:

    Chokehold Death Puts New York’s Controversial Police Chief Back In The Spotlight
    Posted: 07/21/2014 8:31 pm EDT Updated: 07/22/2014 8:59 am EDT
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/21/bill-bratton-eric-garner_n_5607680.html

    Excerpt:
    NEW YORK — On a freezing day this past winter, a small group of protesters gathered outside police headquarters in downtown Manhattan. They were barely noticed by the throngs of reporters who streamed through the doors of 1 Police Plaza to watch a celebrated cop be sworn in for his second turn at the helm of America’s largest police force.

    Calling themselves “New Yorkers Against Bratton,” the protesters warned that the new chief, William J. Bratton, wouldn’t mend the New York City Police Department’s troubled relationship with people of color. Some had lost family members to police violence, and they had not forgotten who led the force when cops gunned down 13-year-old Nicholas Heyward Jr. in a housing project in 1994, when they strangled 29-year-old Anthony Baez in a scuffle after a football hit a police car the same year, when they filled Anthony Rosario and his cousin with bullets as — according to one investigation — the two men lay facedown on the floor of a Bronx apartment in 1995.

    Outside City Hall on Monday, the protesters were back. This time, reporters surrounded them. “What Commissioner Bratton has shown is that he’s unable to control his own police officers, and he has never done anything to address the systemic brutality that keeps happening for low-income, predominantly people of color in New York City,” Josmar Trujillo told the crowd. “Another black man is dead at the hands of the NYPD.”

  4. When I was young I thought cops were like Colombo or Sargent Friday. The war on drugs has turned the police into an occupying army. The “war” served as convenient cover for the use of police as a tool to manage and control minorities and the underclass. I am a middle class white elderly lady in the Midwest. I know all this has GOT to change but HOW?? I read widely as do most “thoughtful” people to seek “solutions,” but how do you legislate out misconceptions, hate and fear? I found we we did League of Women Voter’s studies…first I would think “oh the solution is relatively simple”…then as we dug into the topic hearing all sides…. it got very complicated and seemed more and more complex. One constant in government though is that money rules…we always watched the money..where it went and why. Historically police have functioned as tools of the rulers…during the days of labor strikes they would help state militias control and break up demonstrations and they protect private property. How do we change people from being viewed as perps instead of human beings?

  5. Elaine M. says:

    US Protests Escalate Over Police Killings, Grand Jury Decisions
    http://www.voanews.com/content/protests-continue-against-use-of-excessive-force-by-police/2549367.html

    Excerpt:
    Talk bluntly of race

    “We bluntly have to talk about the historic racial dynamics that underlie this,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

    “We have to have an honest conversation in this country about a history of racism. An honest conversation about the problem that has caused parents to feel that their children may be in danger in their dynamic ((interactions)) with police, when in fact the police are there to protect them. We have to transcend that,” de Blasio said.

    The mayor said the city’s police force, one of America’s largest, will be retrained to improve its dealings with minority communities and, it is hoped, avoid deadly confrontations like the one between officers and unarmed illegal cigarette vendor Eric Garner, who died earlier this year after being wrestled to the ground and forcibly restrained.

    De Blasio has spoken publicly of difficult conversations with his biracial son, telling him to be extra cautious if approached by police.

    “ ‘Do not move suddenly, do not reach for your cell phone’ – because we know, sadly, there is a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color,” he said.

    Those comments have drawn the ire of police representatives, who accused the mayor of scape-goating, rather than defending, those who risk their lives to ensure public safety.

  6. Elaine M. says:

    Mary,

    “I read widely as do most “thoughtful” people to seek “solutions,” but how do you legislate out misconceptions, hate and fear?”

    *****

    Good question.

  7. By white people like U.S. standing together against racial bias openly.

    Bigotry is an ugly daemon

  8. Said thing is, most people can’t admit to being average or below. And bad people try hard, to elevate themselves by the chicanery of looking down upon others.

    I’ve been on the bottom wrung most of my.youth and.. now. .. for the past decade.

    Good people all around

    If the world would only make kindness n consideration the.number 1 value system to be taught Furst n foremost.

    That’s why there current pope is so cool

  9. OroLee says:

    Every person who claims justification for intentionally killing an unarmed person should have to convince a jury by a preponderance of the evidence that a reasonable person in the same or similar situation would have used deadly force. No exceptions

  10. eniobob says:

    “Home » Media Center » Press Releases » December 8th 2014
    A.G. Schneiderman Requests Executive Order To Restore Public Confidence In Criminal Justice System

    Broad Coalition Calls On Governor To Act Immediately

    NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today was joined by a broad coalition of elected officials in outlining an immediate first step toward restoring public trust and confidence in the fairness of reviews of cases involving unarmed civilians killed by law enforcement officers. In a letter sent to Governor Cuomo, Attorney General Schneiderman formally requested that the Governor immediately issue an interim executive order now directing the Office of the Attorney General to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute cases involving unarmed civilians killed by police officers. ”

    http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-requests-executive-order-restore-public-confidence-criminal-justice

  11. Orolee,

    I would argue “clear n convincing”.
    Thst being noted, given the fact that there appears to be no standard,

    Preponderance will do as a start

  12. Cuomo will happily do a show n.tell on this issue; as long as it keeps everyones eyes away from his corruption of things like the Moreland Commission

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