There are times when it’s easy to say something nice about the efforts of New York’s Finest. They caught the bad guy after someone told them who he was and where he could be found. They saved a kitteh* stuck up a tree. But the case of 86-year-old John Antoine isn’t cause to erect a statue.
A spokesman for the NYPD didn’t comment on the dismissal of charges, but said “the responding sergeant demonstrated a level of intelligent restraint that is to be commended.”
Well, sure. Any level of intelligent restraint on the part of an NYPD sergeant stands out. But what was this commendable intelligent restraint of which he speaks?
The NYPD said the cops responded in appropriate fashion. A police spokesman commended the sergeant for not shooting Antoine.
Ah, yes. No matter how monumentally badly the cops screwed up, it could have been worse. They could have killed the innocent guy. They could have killed him and his dog. They could have killed him, his dog and the neighbor kids. Hooray! They didn’t shoot anyone. A great day for the NYPD!
And that’s pretty much the best one can say about the NYPD’s response to a call from an insurance company rep about a suicidal 23-year-old, the boyfriend of Antoine’s granddaughter.
A representative of the family’s health insurance provider had spoken to Antoine’s granddaughter about the situation earlier that afternoon and called the 63rd Precinct to report the young man was suicidal. Because the residence was actually located in a different precinct, a precinct cop called 911 and gave the dispatcher the boyfriend’s name and age.
Was the insurance company rep right to call the cops? It’s impossible to speculate without knowing what transpired, but it’s notable that someone outside the family felt compelled to involve police. To the extent some think mandatory reporting requirements are a solution, consider the implications when the cops show for a suicidal person and their fix is to kill him. Great solution.
But at least the rep, who called the wrong precinct, gave sufficient information to identify the suicidal person. And the cop from the wrong precinct transmitted the information to the 911 dispatcher. But then, poof, NYPD excellence kicked in.
The dispatcher notified cops in the 77th Precinct, but told them the only information she had was that there was a suicidal man at that address. She tried calling the 63rd Precinct back, but got a recorded message.
Meanwhile, Antoine’s granddaughter and her boyfriend had gone out to get the prescription refilled, according to the notice of claim. Antoine buzzed the cops into the building, thinking his granddaughter had returned. The cops found the apartment door ajar and confronted Antoine, ordering him to drop the knife.
For those of you who have never lived in a building on Bergen Street in Brooklyn, leaving the door ajar after buzzing someone is common practice. After being buzzed, they unlock the six locks on the door so the person can enter and lock the door behind them. It’s not an invitation to the police. And in the world of normal law-abiding folks, there is no reason to anticipate that the cops were doing the buzzing.
But having rung the bell, and buzzed in, there is no justification for their entering the apartment. Despite the door being ajar, any claim to exigency in the public safety function was gone. They were let in. They can knock politely. But they didn’t.
“The police came in and say, ‘You so and so, put down the knife,’ and I said, ‘Why are you coming in my apartment? What do you want?’ ” Antoine, a retired pipefitter, told The News. “They wouldn’t tell me.”
By “you so and so,” it seems reasonable to infer that the cops used their usual polite greeting when addressing a citizen in his home. Even assuming they were responding to a suicidal person, what purpose was served by refusing to explain their intrusion, except to take command? Except the entry wasn’t premised on law enforcement purposes, but public safety, meaning that they were there to help. This concept was clearly lost from the outset.
And like most normal, law-abiding 86-year-old guys in their own home, Antoine was doing the ordinary things that a person does. In his case, he was making soup. At the moment the cops burst in, he was chopping onions. See where this is going?
Antoine said he turned to place the knife on the kitchen table and felt pain in the back of his head. “I felt like I was dead,” he said. One of the cops, a sergeant, fired a Taser into Antoine’s neck — which is not a recommended procedure — and the leg.
Why would the sergeant shoot this man with a Taser? You have to ask?
“The individual he encountered inside the residence was armed with a large kitchen knife and was in immediate proximity to both the sergeant and a 3-year-old who was present in the residence,” the spokesman said. “The individual refused to comply with the sergeant’s commands to drop the knife, instead making statements to the effect, ‘I am not going to jail, I’m not going to the hospital.’ ”
No, he wasn’t “armed.” He was cooking. And if anyone put a 3-year-old in harm’s way, it was the sergeant, but nice try to come up with an excuse that doesn’t make this moronic coward come off as proof that the sergeant’s test lacks rigor. As for Antoine responding to “drop the knife” with (“to the effect”? You’ve got to be kidding) “I am not going to jail,” it just broke the bullshit meter.
Police took Antoine to two hospitals and in each case, doctors found him to be mentally fit. He was later charged with harassment for his refusal to drop the knife.
It’s an NYPD tradition, when it gets caught stupid, to try to get a psychiatrist to diagnose the victim as nuts. It didn’t work, so they arrested him instead. After all, there can be no harm done to the wrong person that doesn’t result in an arrest. That would make the NYPD look, you know, incompetent and stupid. That would make cops sad. Nobody wants New York’s Finest to cry.
To top it off, charges against Antoine were dismissed. Five months later.
But an assistant district attorney conceded that after reviewing all the records, clearly a mistake was made. An NYPD dispatcher had apparently failed to pass along information given to the 911 operator that the emotionally disturbed man threatening to commit suicide was the 23-year-old boyfriend of Antoine’s granddaughter, The Daily News previously reported.
Unfortunately, neither the sergeant who proved himself to be one of NYPD’s smartest, nor the Brooklyn assistant who only took five months to figure out that this 86-year-old wasn’t a 23–year-old, are identified in the stories. So we don’t know what name to put on their statues for commendably not killing the wrong person. This time.
*Yes, kitteh. Stop emailing me about the typo. I’m not changing it.