February 22, 1997
Police Commissioner Howard Safir yesterday vowed tougher monitoring of cops accused of brutality after he fired a controversial Bronx officer whose use of an illegal choke hold led to a man’s death.
Safir canned Officer Francis Livoti for violating departmental regulations in the 1994 Bronx struggle that ended with the death of Anthony Baez.
Livoti, 37, the target of 15 civilian complaints over 13 years, was supposed to be under a strict watch by police supervisors at the time of his struggle to subdue Baez.
But the death of the 29-year-old guard showed that the system used to monitor officers hit with multiple complaints was “somewhat inadequate,” Safir admitted.
He ordered police prosecutors to draft profiles of cops accused of more than five violence or abuse complaints so a special board can decide whether the officers require monitoring, counseling, re-training or transfer.
“This department will never tolerate an officer who is abusive or brutal,” Safir said.
He also ordered a review of Sgt. William Monahan, Livoti’s supervisor on the night of Baez’ death. Monahan has not been disciplined, although he was present throughout the struggle.
Police Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rae Koshetz blasted Monahan as a “disgracefully lackadaisical supervisor” in her decision urging that Livoti be fired after she convicted him of using the choke hold at a departmental hearing.
Safir announced the tougher monitoring after he acted on Koshetz’ recommendation and fired Livoti, a move that strips the 15-year veteran of his pension. In an unusually harsh attack on a cop with strong police union ties, Safir ripped Livoti for “inexplicable aggressiveness” and lack of remorse.
The ouster marked one of the final chapters in an emotion-charged case that sparked angry demonstrations in the Bronx, pleas for justice from Baez’ family and a controversial acquittal of Livoti at a criminal trial where he was charged with criminally negligent homicide.
“I’m satisfied with the decision, but nothing is going to satisfy me. Nothing. I lost my son. That doesn’t change,” the victim’s father, Ramon Baez, said yesterday.
Livoti, who still faces a federal civil rights investigation and a civil lawsuit by the Baez family, could not immediately be reached for comment on the firing. But his lawyer, Stuart London, said the ex-cop would appeal the decision.
At the 46th Precinct where Livoti served, tight-lipped officers called the firing a foregone conclusion.
A senseless chain of events produced the tragedy. Baez and three brothers were playing touch football in the early morning of Dec. 22, 1994, in front of their University Heights home.
The struggle began after Livoti, angry that the ball had struck his patrol car, raged at the brothers for ignoring his orders to halt the game.
Livoti’s “inexplicable aggressiveness during what most reasonable officers understand to be a routine street encounter escalated events into violence, and the death resulted,” Safir said.
Livoti applied the choke hold — banned by the Police Department in 1993 — in a struggle when Baez protested Livoti’s arrest of his brother David for disorderly conduct. Livoti testified during the departmental trial that his arm only brushed Baez’ neck.
Safir caustically said Livoti “remains incapable of accepting responsibility for his actions. He blames others for his ordeal.”
City Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Hirsch, however, estimated that Baez was choked for more than a minute. Although Baez suffered an asthma attack during the clash, Hirsch determined that the ailment played a minor role in his death.
Mayor Giuliani praised Safir for the ouster. He also conceded that Livoti should have been booted long ago — but blamed the inaction on prior police administrations.
“Should they have kept him on the police force for as long as he was on the police force? Absolutely not,” Giuliani said.
Original Story Date: 02/22/97