Federal Civil Rights Trial Starts
The NYPD Murder of Anthony Baez
Revolutionary Worker #962, June 21, 1998
On June 15 the Federal Criminal Civil Rights case of Francis Livoti will go to trial. Livoti is the NYPD cop who killed 29-year-old Anthony Baez in December 1994. He is charged with violating Baez's "right to be secure in his own person and free from the use of unreasonable force" while being arrested. Livoti faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of causing Baez "bodily injury." Law enforcement sources said Livoti was not charged with murdering Baez--which would have carried a life imprisonment term. Apparently, the Federal District Attorney's Office for New York argued that it would have been more difficult to prove Anthony died as a result of Livoti's chokehold. But the facts are clear, Livoti choked this young Puerto Rican man to death, killing him in cold blood:
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. Thud--it 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. 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. He goes for one of the brothers, David, and arrests him. When Anthony protests, Livoti turns on him and gets him 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 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.
After the murder of Anthony Baez, his family had to struggle to even get Livoti indicted. And then, typically, the system let Livoti go free.
Before Anthony was even buried, the Baez family took action to expose this blatant 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 kind of determination forced the system to bring charges against Livoti. When 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.
The Baez family soon learned how things in the system's courts are stacked against the people and getting any kind of real justice. 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 in which the decision would be made by Judge Gerald Sheindlin. This judge ruled that 14 prior complaints of brutality against Livoti were irrelevant. He ignored the testimony of members of the Baez family and six medical experts, including the city's own medical examiner. He ignored the testimony of the one cop whose story was consistent with the medical experts and that of the Baez family. Instead, he chose to believe the outrageous lies spun by five other police officers' testimony that frequently contradicted each other.
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. He said, "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.
On October 7, 1996, Judge Gerald Sheindlin declared Francis Livoti not guilty. His verdict was so outrageous he felt compelled to write up a 10-page paper and did extensive interviews with the media to try and justify his decision. Sheindlin said Anthony's death was due to asthma, therefore 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. As the judge's words came out of his mouth, Ramon Baez, Anthony's father, jumped up and yelled, "Murderer! Murderer!" at Livoti who was quickly ushered out of the courtroom by a side door. Other family members and supporters yelled in protest at Livoti, the judge, and the off-duty cops who had come to support Livoti. David Baez, the younger brother of Anthony, burst out of the courtroom with anguish and anger, telling others the news: Innocent! They made him innocent! Running towards a group of off-duty cops, he screamed at them, "He's guilty and you know it!"
Others came pouring out of the courtroom, crying and yelling in anger. Some people grabbed the courtroom barricades and slammed them on the floor. A woman hurled a wooden barricade against the wall, and a Puerto Rican flag was unfurled. Small scuffles broke out between protesters and court officers. People angrily pointed their fingers at the cops and chants rang out in the hallway: "No justice, no peace! Guilty, Guilty."
Outside, people gathered and took to the streets in a march of about 200 people, including family members, friends, supporters and others whose relatives have been killed by the police. In the following days people continued to demonstrate and protest.
In December 1996 Livoti went to court again for a $48 million civil lawsuit brought by the Baez family against Livoti and the City of New York. Lawyers for the City of New York claimed that the city was not responsible for Anthony Baez" death because Livoti "was not acting in furtherance of city business but for furtherance of his own business" and that his actions were "beyond the scope of his duty" as a cop.
First the system used the fact that Livoti is a cop to get him off. Livoti was tried as a police officer. His attorney was a lawyer for the police union. He was acquitted by the judge based on his status as a cop. Mayor Giuliani praised the judge's decision. The city supported him while he was on trial and protected him. Then the City of New York turned around and tried to have it both ways--saying the city was not responsible for Livoti's crime because he was not acting in the interest of the city. This lawsuit is still pending.
Members of the Baez family have been active in the fight against police brutality and they participated in the first October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality. Shortly after the October 1996 not guilty verdict came down the RW had the opportunity to speak with Iris, Ramon and David Baez at their home in the Bronx, New York. The following are excerpts from this interview, which originally appeared in RW #879.
RW: Tell us what happened on the night of December 22, 1994.
Ramon Baez: One of my kids, I think it was David or Tony, threw the football and it hit the police car. When my other son, Henry, caught the ball, he apologized to the police and the police accepted the apologies. And then they continued playing about a half hour and nothing happened. Then a throw from David hit Livoti's car.
Livoti came out from his car. He didn't come out as a police officer, he came as a gangster, a gangbuster, he didn't want them to play no more. He said, "Get the f - out of here!" and such language and asked them what gang they were.
My son Ramon told Livoti, "We are not a gang, we are four brothers, we play together." Then Livoti tried to pick Ramon to fight him "Come on, hit me!" Ramon at that time was 21 years old. Ramon, that kid is straight like an arrow, never had trouble in his life, with nobody, not even in his school. Ramon was a clean-cut kid, no problem at all. Livoti wanted to fight Ramon because he was big, he was the biggest of the four. But David said, "What you doing, we came to play football, we don't want to fight nobody. Why you doing it for?"
That's when Livoti jumped on David; he treated him like a criminal.
David Baez: He arrested me and cuffed me, slammed my head into the front of my brother's jeep, slammed me down on the ground, picked me up by the handcuffs, started jerking me back and forth with the handcuffs. The handcuffs were cutting through my skin. He threw me in his car, went back to where my brothers were at to try to pick another fight, to show he was the "man," I guess.
My brother Tony was asking him why I was being arrested. He said we know our rights. Livoti didn't want to hear none of that. He jumped on my brother, started choking him. My other brothers were telling him to stop. Then my brothers were thrown to the ground. I saw all this happening, so I jumped out of the back seat of the patrol car. My father started coming down. Everybody was yelling for my father to come down. I was running towards my father and my brothers. Then I was thrown to the ground, hit, a police officer stuck a gun to my head, arrested me and took me from the scene.
My father was pleading with Officer Livoti, "Let go of my son, he's an asthmatic, why you killing him?"
I was taken away, hit in the precinct by other officers, then placed in jail for eight hours with no charges. In the precinct, they came up to me, smacking me, telling me I was going to Rikers, hitting me in my back, in my face. I was set free eight hours later with my brother Henry who was arrested because he was basically asking the officers why there were doing that, that we all live in this house, we"re not doing nothing but playing football.
Ramon Baez: Henry and Ramon were yelling "Pa, Pa," and I see the panic in their voices the way they call me. I say to myself, "Something's wrong," I went down. I see. I think it is a gang the way they took my family like criminals. That's what they do, like criminals. I see sometimes the way they do the young people in the street.
When I see this officer, Livoti, I told him, "Leave him alone, you"ll kill him, he's asthmatic." He knew my son was asthmatic, and he still wouldn't let him go. That's why I am so angry. So my son went down on the street. Livoti told me, "Your son, he's asthmatic, good for him."
They abused us. They wanted to put me in jail, one of the police officers out here. They wanted to handcuff me because I was there looking for help for Tony. He was on the street. He didn't move. I was looking for the sergeant, who was in charge here.
They didn't want me to go near Tony. Every time I tried to go near Tony, they pushed me around. It was something like unbelievable. He was laying there for about 20 minutes; I was looking for a siren, looking for somebody to help. A lady cop picked up Tony from the street and put him in her car, she told me she took Tony to the hospital because of the way he was looking, eyes closed, no pulse, no nothing.
I walked to the precinct, Ramon was outside the precinct. I get inside and see the police officer at the desk, and we told the police officer, "Why didn't you stop Livoti? Why didn't you do something?" The police officer put his head down and he told me and Ramon, "I don't know, I don't know" put his head down almost crying. He knew what happened. And when we went to the court, he gave a bunch of lies.
I was at the precinct waiting and waiting for Henry and David and what happen to them. We get a phone call from the desk. The officer told me I got to go to the hospital to look at Tony, he has a 50-50 chance. We went to the hospital. At that moment I knew Tony was not good, I knew something bad was going to happen.
And then I found out he was dead.
I called my wife to give her the news, I called Tony's wife, called the family. They went to the hospital and then I went back to the precinct. I said to myself I will do anything to get David and Henry out of the police hands because I don't want another son killed. I know they put a gun to David's head, I saw that.
I know my son. My son Tony was trying to tell him "I know my rights." And when you tell a police officer you know your rights, that's a problem, especially if you're Latino. They think because we are Latino we are not intelligent people. But my son, Tony, was a well-educated man. I don't have the education that my kids have, I cannot speak the language the way they speak the language, but I worked hard for that and my wife, too. My kids all got education, and they treat us like criminals! That's why I get so upset when I speak about this case.
I get so upset because I know my kids. I know them. There were four kids never had problem with the police for 20 years they played football in the street in front of the house. For 20 years my kids played there, not a single complaint against them. No one complained about that for 20 years and now this comes from nowhere .
Tony was a part of us in the prime of his life. My family, for us life is not the same. We have many problems after Tony's death. We have problems with the Justice Department, with the Police Department. The only one we got is God, we got God and people in the community. We need the people to support us, all we need is for the community to get together so this thing does not happen again.
I want this to stop concerning the Latinos, the Blacks, the entire city, because I don't want nobody to get hurt, especially our kids. I want no more killing in the city of New York. The Jewish kids, I don't want any of them to get killed, the Italian, the Irish, I don't want anything to happen again, that's why we have to continue to fight. Because people in this city, we have our differences, but we have to get together to fight against the police brutality
RW: In the midst of grieving for Anthony, you got started in the determined fight for justice for your son. Tell us about that.
Iris Baez: When they said Tony died of asthma, I said, "No, there's no way he could have died of asthma." So that's when I decided to get a pathologist to check it out. So I called this lawyer and he got me a pathologist Christmas Eve. By that time the city still hadn't given me what happened to my son.
And the pathologist said it was a homicide. Then the city had to rule it a homicide. And from there on I got so mad about why it happened and over a football.
I said, "No, there's no justice here, there's no justice." This cop either was racist or he had a chip on his shoulder, and he just wanted to take it out on the boys. So I said "No, I'm not going to go down fighting." So my sister came, Patricia came, my daughter, and then we started saying, "No, we have to do something. This can't go like that. So what we going to do?"
Then they said, "Let's make something out of this, make noise," and I said okay. So we got cardboard, the kids started making signs, and we marched from here to the 46th precinct the day they were going to lay Tony out in the funeral. We were saying that they murdered my son.
We marched over to the funeral parlor where my son was laid out, it was to let the people in the neighborhood know that something was wrong, an awareness like. And we did it mostly every day that my son was laid out, and then we buried my son and I had to go back to Florida.
I came back the following month and we did a march around back to the precinct, that was January. We went all the way to the courthouse at 161st, that was our first rally. We were the family and a couple of people from the neighborhood that followed us, and as we kept on going, chanting things, people kept on joining the group. By the time we got over there, we had about 50. My daughter had a friend from when she used to be in school, so she said, "Don't worry, we are going to help you." Then she asked the Mumia coalition to help us because we didn't have no money. So they helped us with our first batch of flyers and our placards. And it just escalated and we kept on and we kept on.
And now we're fighting for all the victims.
RW: You said you have a mission to wake people up about police brutality and murder. How has your life changed since your son's murder?
Iris Baez: When my son died and I started going out in the streets and people started approaching me about their problems, then I said, "Well, my son didn't die in vain." Maybe me going out in the street, me hollering and carrying on is to help other people to the light, to bring them to the light, that we have a big problem in this city. And that we going to have to go out in the streets, like an awareness to show the people that something bad is happening here, and we're just too quiet. And we're letting everybody stamp on us and do what they want, and we can't say nothing. This is not the way we should live.
I have become stronger. He has given me courage to just do things I never would have dreamt I could do, like talk in public, yell, shout, you know, I never thought I would do anything like that. This has given me the will to live, the will to keep on fighting for other victims, for the parents, because some parents keep it inside and don't do nothing and just dry up and die because of their sorrow. We can't let the sorrow put a blanket over us. We have to say "no."
My son was worth a lot, my son was life itself and he loved his life, so I can't let that happen to anybody else.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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