The Cop Who Choked Eric Garner to Death Won't Have to Pay a Dime in Damages

Have you ever thought about who has to pay the cost for cop misconduct when civil rights lawsuits are settled for police crimes like unreasonable searches, false arrests, sexual assaults or, say, choking a man to death?

Of course you have. Because these are the kind of thoughts that help you turn down after a day at work where your Kermit the Frog lookin coworker tried to play you in front of your manager.

It's bad enough that police can hem you up or murder you and never see the inside of a courtroom. But the case of NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo has brought us face to face with another ice cold reality: when civil complaints against the police are settled out of court, cops almost never have to pay a dime.

More than 99 percent of the payouts come from a city's municipal budget, which has a line item dedicated to settlements and judgments each year.

You know what that means? Taxpayers shoulder the cost. Yes. Even when we win, we lose.

That's a flagrant Metta World Peace elbow to the chin foul, yo. 

This scenario is typical of police departments across the country, says Joanna Schwartz, the author a UCLA study published in June 2014, who analyzed records from 81 law enforcement agencies employing 20 percent of the nation’s approximately 765,000 police officers. (The NYPD, which is responsible for three-quarters of the cases in the study, employs just over 36,000 officers.) Out of the more than $735 million paid out by cities and counties for police misconduct between 2006 and 2011, government budgets paid more than 99 percent. Local laws indemnifying officers from responsibility for such damages vary, but “there is little variation in the outcome,” Schwartz wrote. “Officers almost never pay.”
— Jaeah Lee, Mother Jones
During that same period, St. Louis—which has become a focal point for police brutality ever since an unarmed Michael Brown was gunned down in the suburb of Ferguson in August 2014—paid out $2.7 million for civil rights claims against police.
— Jaeah Lee, Mother Jones

Here are few things that become immediately clear from considering this diabolical bullshit:

1. I'm not payin for that shit. My gas tank is on E and my fridge is empty spare two mustard packets sitting next to a half-ate, four day old Arby's burger. FOH if my city thinks I'm paying for police to murder and exploit my people.

2. It's time we police our police. As anti-simps, it is our duty to not get hoodwinked by a legal scheme that gives immunity to killer cops. We've got to organize to change local laws that protect cops from financial liability.

The road ahead won't be easy. 

In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled that police officers should be afforded “qualified immunity” from civil rights claims brought by citizens—the risk of legal exposure could deter officers from carrying out their duties, the court has held—except in cases where an officer has violated “clearly established law.”

Yet, in other cases the Supreme Court has ruled that municipalities should not be liable for damages incurred by its employees, and that punitive damages can’t be awarded against cities. In a 1981 majority opinion, Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun stated that if municipalities were held liable for civil claims, it could lead to tax hikes or “a reduction of public services for the citizens footing the bill. Neither reason nor justice suggests that such retribution should be visited upon the shoulders of blameless or unknowing taxpayers.” But in Schwartz’s view, cities requiring so few officers to pay even for punitive damages goes against the spirit of that decision.
— Jaeah Lee, Mother Jones

Has anyone in the country successfully organized to change local laws so that cops shoulder the cost for their crimes? Help us find the answer.

Let's be about that action.