NYPD official drops a misconduct charge against cops, after one killed man in mental health crisis

April 23, 2023
By Bahar Ostadan and Giulia Heyward

An NYPD official has quietly dropped one of several misconduct charges against officers after one shot and killed a Bronx man during a mental health crisis in 2019.

The move was made just days before a disciplinary hearing set for Monday.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado dismissed the illegal entry charge against Officers Brendan Thompson and Herbert Davis — who pushed open Kawaski Trawick’s door, dislodging a chain lock before Thompson shot and killed Trawick less than two minutes later— according to advocates and an attorney working with Trawick’s family. Trawick was holding a knife at the time Thompson shot him.

The city’s primary police watchdog, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, is expected to prosecute Thompson and Davis Monday on charges of excessive force, abuse of authority and refusal to obtain medical treatment. The officers have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark and the NYPD has not brought any disciplinary action of its own against the officers.

“I’m disgusted and heartbroken that once again the NYPD has put up another roadblock to accountability for my son,” Ellen Trawick, Kawaski Trawick’s mother, said in a statement issued by anti-police-violence activist group Justice Committee. “This doesn't even make any sense, that they would toss charges that have been standing for two years, just days before the trial is supposed to begin.”

Some advocates said the NYPD has a yearslong precedent of refusing to hold itself accountable to the agency designed to monitor it. Last year, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell rejected more than half of the CCRB’s disciplinary recommendations for officers. Sewell also previously said that she intends to “amend” the department’s disciplinary matrix, according to the New York Post.

“New Yorkers should care about the fact that the NYPD really views itself only as accountable to itself,” Michael Sisitzky, assistant policy director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, told Gothamist. “The NYPD’s default line is: ‘Trust us to police ourselves.’ That has severe implications for any New Yorker who is looking for some measure of accountability when they are mistreated by an officer.”

Officers arrived at Trawick’s apartment after receiving several 911 calls, including one from Trawick himself, who was locked out of his apartment. Body-worn camera footage shows Trawick standing near his stove holding a bread knife, asking officers, “Why are you in my home?”

Thompson, the younger officer, first used his Taser on Trawick — despite Davis telling him not to, the footage shows. Davis also tried to push Thompson’s gun down before Thompson shot Trawick.

Trawick’s parents asked the police commissioner to fire both officers at a rally earlier this month. The CCRB also called for firing Thompson and Davis when it substantiated the disciplinary charges against them in 2021.

"We strongly disagree with the decision," a CCRB spokesman told Gothamist. "Deputy Commissioner Maldonado overstepped her authority and we are exploring all our options.”

After Monday’s trial, Maldonado will decide whether the officers should face discipline. But the ruling is nonbinding and Sewell makes the final call.

Sewell has followed CCRB recommendations just 42% of the time, according to a CCRB review of 755 recommendations for discipline last year.

Sisitzky said he, and others, would be following the hearing closely.

“This really speaks to the fact that there are longer term changes that we need to see with respect to how discipline is handled within the NYPD,” Sisitzky said. “The NYPD is really unique in that it is the only agency that actually runs its own trial room.”

Eliel Cruz, a spokesperson for Justice Committee, said the trial will start Monday, then adjourn until May 11 because an NYPD member the defense plans to call as a witness has planned a vacation.

“The trial dates were set forever ago,” Cruz said. He described dropping the illegal entry charge days before the trial as a “slap in the face for the family.”

Trawick’s family has been traveling back and forth between Georgia and New York for rallies and the trial proceedings, Cruz said.

The family’s attorney, Royce Russell, said on Sunday that Maldonado’s decision raises questions about the NYPD disciplinary trial process.

“I’m not clear whether the commissioner did this on her own. I doubt it,” he said. “I think the respondents, the police department and the attorneys for the officers, brought this motion to the table in the ninth hour.”

The NYPD did not respond to an inquiry about the dropped charge.

Maldonado’s role is to “conduct fair and impartial” disciplinary trials, according to the NYPD. In the killing of Eric Garner in 2014, Maldonado found Officer Daniel Pantaleo guilty of using a chokehold and recommended he be fired, but also found him not guilty of intentionally obstructing Garner’s breathing.

The city police department’s largest union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, filed a formal request in February to dismiss the disciplinary charges and block CCRB from prosecuting the officers. Sewell denied the request.

Dozens of elected officials last week called on Mayor Eric Adams and Sewell to ensure all misconduct charges against Thompson and Davis would be heard in Monday’s hearing. They wrote they were responding to news the NYPD was “unilaterally considering” dismissing one of the misconduct charges.

“It seems that the [deputy commissioner of trials] is unfairly initiating arguments on behalf of the defense, on questions that have already been long-settled, before the trial even begins,” the statement reads.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams criticized the decision to drop a charge last week in a public statement, calling it “an outrageous subversion of civilian oversight for police misconduct.”

“The NYPD must stop attacking and weakening efforts to hold officers accountable — it only further erodes the public trust needed to make our communities safer,” her statement reads.

Trawick’s family is not the first left waiting for years for the city to decide whether it will discipline NYPD officers who shoot someone during a mental health crisis. Sewell is still considering whether to fire Sgt. Hugh Barry, who killed another Bronx resident, Deborah Danner, during a mental health crisis in 2016.

Police also shot a resident of a Bronx supportive housing facility on Friday. He was in critical condition, the NYPD said that day. Police said Sunday they did not have an update on his medical condition, and have not released his name.

Officers shot another Bronx man, Raul de la Cruz, last month after his father called 311 for help and said the man was in the midst of a schizophrenic episode. As of this past week, he remained hospitalized in critical condition, according to a family member.

Topics: Kawaski Trawick