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Talks to save Pantaleo's pension fell through, lawyer and union chief say

Former New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo

Former New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo leaves his house, May 13, in Staten Island. Credit: AP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

An attorney for fired NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo and the union chief for city cops met with a high-ranking chief last week in an eleventh-hour effort to save Pantaleo's pension in a deal in which the officer would leave the force after he was found guilty of using a banned chokehold that contributed to Eric Garner's death.

But the discussions fell through and on Monday NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill fired Pantaleo. He followed the recommendations of the trial commissioner who found the officer recklessly used the chokehold during Garner's arrest for selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island in July 2014.

In an interview with Newsday on Tuesday, attorney Stuart London said he expects to file an appeal in state court in about 30 days to get Pantaleo, 34, his job and pension back. He said the papers will be filed in Manhattan State Supreme Court under Article 78 of the state civil practice rules within the four-month statute of limitations. 

At a Monday news conference, London and Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch had disclosed that they had a discussion last week over coffee in which a high-ranking member of the NYPD made a last minute offer for Pantaleo to leave his job but have a secure pension for his 13 years of service.

“Pat and myself were made an offer in this case of a vested pension,” London said. “One thing was positive, that the pension was safe. That his wife and child would receive that pension.”

Based on Pantaleo’s salary, London estimated that his pension would amount to $2,000 a month, plus medical benefits when he reached what would have been his 20 year of service in about 2026. O’Neill said that after he fired Pantaleo that the officer would only get back the money he personally had put into the pension system

London wouldn’t identify the NYPD official involved but a source familiar with the case said the official was Chief of Department Terence Monahan, who met with them in a lower Manhattan restaurant, drinking cappuccino while London and Lynch had espressos.

London told reporters that he and Lynch believed as of last Friday that they had a deal. But then on Saturday or Sunday London said he got a text message from the department that there would be no paperwork on the deal.

“Pat and I realized the writing was on the wall, that they had been disingenuous when they indicated to us he would receive a full pension and that the rug was being pulled out from under us,” London said.

NYPD spokeswoman Devora Kaye confirmed that Monahan met with Lynch and London and discussed the pension: “Chief Monahan discussed this [the pension deal] as one of the possible options that he thought was fair based on the protections afforded to [civil service] Tier Three members and those with over 20 years on the job. The decision was ultimately the Police Commissioner’s and he made the determination that Officer Pantaleo could no longer serve as a New York City police officer.”

Lynch said he believed Mayor Bill de Blasio meddled in the final negotiations for political reasons. A spokesman for de Blasio, in response, sent a transcript of the mayor's comments during a news conference that didn't address the pension issue but said, by law, O'Neill "was the decision-maker and he made the decision."

London indicated that Pantaleo's appeal will say that it was "arbitrary and capricious" for Judge Rosemarie Maldonado to find that Pantaleo was reckless in applying the chokehold for three to five seconds. That is the legal standard often invoked when administrative rulings are challenged in court.

One former high-ranked NYPD official said that if Pantaleo argued on appeal that de Blasio interfered in the case, the court could order the taking of testimony and discovery of emails and communications from the mayor to the NYPD on the case.

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