Great Injustice in Anthony Baez Case

Judge Frees Killer Cop

Revolutionary Worker #878, October 27, 1996

"My son's death was for a purpose. The Lord says there was a purpose in his death. It was to wake up the people."
Iris Baez, mother of Anthony Baez

It is an outrage. Once again the system has let a murdering cop go free. In December 1994, NYPD cop Francis Livoti squeezed the last living breath out of Anthony Baez, a 29-year-old Puerto Rican man. On October 7, 1996 a judge pronounced Livoti "not guilty."

Anthony Baez had dreams. His father, Ramon Baez, told the RW that Anthony and his wife planned to have a family. He was working two jobs and going to college. He was trying to improve his life. A cold-blooded murderer took all this away. And the evidence of guilt is clear:

It is 1994, three days before Christmas. The Baez family is all together. Some have come up from Florida to visit but now it's time to head back. Traffic will be bad, so the plan is to leave before the morning rush hour, maybe 3 or 4 in the morning. The luggage is already packed up and in the cars. So there's still some time to spend together. They play cards for a while, but there's too much energy to just sit inside. Around 1 a.m., four of the Baez brothers go outside, and start a game of touch football. Iris Baez always had her kids play out in front of the house. That way, she could keep an eye on them and help them if there was trouble. Everybody's happy, playing around...then the ball goes off target, hits the roof of a cop car parked on the street. "Sorry about that..." No big deal.The cops like to park on this street, sometimes to drink coffee, sometimes to sleep. They say it's "anti-crime work." In fact, it's cops doing whatever they want, SOP. Another cop car pulls up. Francis Livoti is the driver--a cop who's had 14 official complaints filed against him. Many of them involved choking. He's with a sergeant who's supposed to be monitoring him to prevent improper conduct.Thud...the ball hits Livoti's car. He gets out and orders the Baez brothers to go home. But they are home. The brothers try to continue their game....Livoti gets out. He's in a rage. "That's it! Who wants to fight?" he yells. Then the shit breaks out. Livoti goes for one of the brothers, David, and arrests him. His brother Anthony protests. Livoti turns on him...he gets Anthony in a chokehold. Anthony's a big guy. He used to wrestle. If he wanted to, he probably could have inflicted some pain on Livoti, but he doesn't resist. Livoti doesn't care--he's crazy with anger. He holds Anthony around the neck--10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds...a long killing minute. The life spills out of Anthony Baez.

Anthony's father, Ramon, comes running out of the house. He yells out, "He has asthma!" Livoti yells back, "He's sick? He has asthma? Good for him." Anthony falls unconscious face down in the street. The cops kneel on his back and handcuff him. Anthony lays in the street for 15 minutes before they drag him to a police car. He never regains consciousness. All the while this is happening, Anthony's family is screaming, "He has asthma...don't hurt him...somebody call the cops!..." One of the cops yells back, "We are the cops, you idiots!"

The NYPD have killed at least 100 people in the last two and a half years, most of them covered up by official declarations of "justifiable homicide," or whatever. But Anthony's family refused to let it be. Before Anthony was even buried, the Baez family took action to expose this cold-blooded police murder and demand justice.

Anthony's aunt, Carol Sandoval, said, "We rallied in front of the station house the day of the funeral. Everywhere we went the cops would laugh at us. With everything that was happening, we had to think about organizing all of this at the same time we were grieving..." This is the kind of determination that forced the system to bring charges against Livoti. After the original indictment was thrown out because of a "typographical error," the family occupied the Bronx DA's office. Livoti was finally re-indicted--but only on charges of criminally negligent homicide, the least serious charge that could have been brought down, with a one-to-four-year maximum sentence.

In the system's courts things are stacked against the people. At the start of the trial, the judge ruled that 11 complaints of police brutality filed against Livoti with the Civilian Complaint Review Board were "irrelevant" and could not be brought in as evidence. Livoti didn't want to face a Bronx jury--juries here are known for not believing the lies of the police. So he requested, and got, a trial by the judge. This is typical for cops charged with murder or brutality against the people. According to the recent Amnesty International report on brutality in the NYPD, "NYC police officers charged with felonies involving the use of excessive force (including homicides) almost invariably waive their right to be tried before a jury and are tried before a single judge." This set-up has worked extremely well for murdering cops. Only one NYPD cop has been convicted of charges after committing murder in the last 20 years!

Livoti's defense claimed no chokehold was put on Anthony, that he died of an asthma attack. But Anthony's brothers and his father testified that Livoti put Anthony in a chokehold until his body went limp and fell to the ground. And the chief medical examiner of New York, Dr. Charles Hirsch, left no doubt about what killed Anthony: "The compression of his neck, in my opinion, is the dominant cause of his death." Hirsch testified that Anthony had been choked for "an interval measuring a minute or more." Five other expert witnesses agreed with Hirsch. There were chilling pictures of the brutalized body of Anthony Baez. They showed hemorrhages in his eyes and multiple hemorrhages on his larynx--pictures of a murder victim.

The cops were the only witnesses whose testimony contradicted the testimony of the medical experts. And their story contradicted the eyewitness testimony of the family. But the judge believed the cops.

The three cops who were with Livoti claimed they were all trying to subdue Anthony, but that no one put their hands on his neck, including Livoti. One cop even claimed that after Anthony was cuffed, he stood up and walked around! They claimed Anthony struggled with them as they put him into a police car and that he was still conscious. The officer in charge actually testified that during the "struggle" he saw an unknown pair of "black hands" around Anthony's neck. Another cop said he saw "two black transit cops" near Livoti. Only one cop broke ranks. Daisy Boria testified that when she arrived, Anthony was face down and motionless. She said four officers carried him face down and put him into her patrol car.

Judge Gerald Sheindlin's "not guilty" verdict was so outrageous that he wrote up a 10-page paper and did extensive interviews with the media to try and justify his decision. His used double-speak, saying things like: "I don't believe the defendant is innocent, but I find him not guilty of criminally negligent homicide." He criticized the Bronx D.A., who is Black, of not presenting compelling evidence. And he made up a whole new theory of what happened that night--a version of events that hadn't even been argued by either side in the trial! He claimed that Anthony regained consciousness, put up a struggle and while face down on the pavement being subdued he had an asthma attack and died. Sheindlin said since Anthony's death was due to asthma, Livoti could not be held responsible because he didn't know Anthony had asthma--even though Anthony's father Ramon had testified that he told Livoti that Anthony had asthma.

There was a quick and angry response from the people to this outrageous verdict. People immediately came out of the courtroom and took to the streets. And in the following days people continued to demonstrate and protest.

Many elected officials had worried that there would be mass protest in response to a "not guilty" verdict and that people would lose faith in the system. The mayor and police commissioner quickly came out saying the justice system had spoken. But in an attempt to cool out anger, said Livoti may face an internal department review. Conservative columnist Stanley Crouch worried that "public trust in the police may be jeopardized." Two elected officials from the South Bronx wrote a letter to the US District Attorney demanding a federal investigation because trust in the criminal justice system has been "severely undermined by this decision." Governor Pataki added to the attempts at damage control, saying he was "disturbed."

The major daily NY Spanish language paper El Diario wrote in an editorial, "For many citizens of this city who are Latino, African-American, or who do not speak English, cops are licensed to kill...and we cannot ever forget that on any given day, it could be one of us."

The ACLU has denounced the judge's verdict. Amnesty International released a written statement against the verdict. According to the Amsterdam News, it "declared that the verdict goes against the evidence presented at the trial which clearly indicated that Baez died of compression to the neck through the application of a choke hold, not asthma, as claimed by the police."

As we go to press, protests against the verdict are continuing and there is a real mood among the people of "no justice, no peace." Further protest against police brutality and murder are planned for the coming weeks--including wearing Black and demonstrating on October 22nd, the National Day of Protest To Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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