The NYPD’s head of administrative trials is recommending no punishment for two police officers involved in the shooting death of 32-year-old Kawaski Trawick in his Bronx apartment in April 2019, according to a draft ruling obtained by THE CITY.
Trawick, a dancer and personal trainer, was Tased and shot four times by Police Officer Brendan Thompson within two minutes of Thompson and his partner Herbert Davis arriving at Trawick’s door. At the time, Trawick was living in a supportive housing building that provides services for substance abuse or mental health challenges.
In her draft decision dated Sept. 20, Deputy Commissioner Rosemarie Maldonado faulted the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) for not filing misconduct charges against the two officers until after a statute of limitations for doing so had expired.
The time limit on filing the charges against the cops was two years but the board missed it by nearly five months — mostly because of NYPD delays in turning over key evidence, a timeline contained in the draft decision shows.
That lapse elevated the bar of proof required for a finding of guilt against the officers from merely identifying violations of NYPD guidelines to proving their actions constitute crimes, wrote Maldonado.
This meant instead of proving Thompson used excessive force by shocking and shooting Trawick — who called 911 himself after being locked out of his apartment — CCRB prosecutors had to prove he committed first or second degree assault, she reasoned.
“CCRB’s failure to preserve the statute of limitations hijacked this NYPD disciplinary trial and distorted it into a quasi-criminal proceeding where the evidentiary threshold focused on the Penal Law instead of Patrol Guide compliance,” Maldonado wrote “As such, whether Respondent Thompson’s actions violated the Department’s Force and EDP [Emotionally Disturbed Person] guidelines is moot because the charges were not served by the statutory deadline.”
Maldonado pinned the blame for the late filing on the CCRB, even as she cited multiple factors outside the agency’s control that contributed to a delay in the board’s June 9, 2021 vote to seek discipline against the two cops.
Most notably, it took the NYPD a year-and-a-half to provide CCRB investigators with 23 videos from body-worn cameras that investigators had requested in June 2019.
Police officials didn’t hand the videos over until January 2021.
The CCRB voted just five months later to bring multiple charges of improper use of force against Thompson, and improper entry and failure to provide medical care against both officers.
But the statute of limitations for filing charges, which then Gov. Andrew Cuomo had extended for all legal case deadlines during the Coronavirus pandemic, expired nine days prior.
Ellen Trawick, Kawaski’s mother, called the system “rigged” where the NYPD can essentially stall an outside investigation and then also say those delays are the reason cops can escape justice.
“It wasn’t the CCRB. It was the NYPD. It was them — they held the process up so long,” she told THE CITY. “I really feel like it was something that the NYPD rigged up from the beginning. I felt like they know what they was doing. I’m pretty sure this is nothing that they haven’t done before,” added Ellen Trawick, who has been calling for the officers to be fired for over four years.
“These two officers, they took Kawaski’s life and they should be held accountable for that. And for her to make the recommendation to just dismiss the case — that’s just heartbreaking for myself and my family.”
While Maldonado could alter the draft ruling after allowing for comment from the prosecution and defense in the case, material changes to drafts rulings are “rare,” according to Rae Koshetz, a former deputy commissioner of trials.
No matter Maldonado’s final decision, it only serves as a recommendation for Police Commissioner Edward Caban — who can impose any level of discipline from a reprimand to job termination, or none at all.
The NYPD and an attorney for Thompson didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Richard Murray, the attorney for Davis, said, “I think it was a very comprehensive decision on judge Maldonado’s part and ultimately the decision is the appropriate one.”
The head of the police officers’ union, Patrick Hendry, said the case “proves once again
that the dysfunctional and biased CCRB is willing to bend every rule in the book in order to ruin cops’ careers.”
CCRB Acting Chair Arva Rice called Maldonado’s recommendation “very disappointing.”
“Ultimately, it is up to the police commissioner to hold these officers accountable,” she said. “The agency will make our case to Commissioner Caban in order to finally get accountability for Mr. Trawick’s family.”
The CCRB has been complaining about blanket delays in the NYPD’s delivery of body-worn camera footage to its investigators since at least 2020.
That year, ProPublica reported on a backlog of requests for footage from the CCRB that topped more than 1,100.
The review board has also been advocating for its staff to have direct access to the NYPD’s body-cam videos, rather than having to rely on the police department to find — and sometimes not find — the relevant footage.
The City Council held a hearing in March on legislation that would grant the CCRB direct access to the videos, something that Gothamist reported is already done in cities like Chicago and Washington D.C.
The review board’s most recent monthly report said that 42 requests, nearly one-quarter of the total pending, have been outstanding for more than three months.
In her draft decision, Maldonado mentioned other factors that contributed to the CCRB’s delay in closing the case.
This included Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark asking the board’s investigators to hold off on their investigation while she pursued potential criminal charges.
Clark’s office in August 2020 declined to bring any criminal charges against the two cops in the case.
In her analysis, Maldonado raised multiple questions about whether Thompson violated the department’s procedure for dealing with people in emotional crisis, referred to in police parlance as EDPs.
The NYPD patrol guide section on dealing with people with mental health or emotional crises starts with the observation that “the primary duty of all members of the service is to preserve human life.”
It advises officers to call in units that are specially trained to deal with individuals in crisis, to try to de-escalate the situation and not provoke the person, and to try to safely isolate them until backup can arrive — including by securing a door shut.
Maldonado wrote that “the trial record raises serious doubts as to whether Respondent Thompson followed Department guidelines during this incident,” and specifically that section of the Patrol Guide.
But Maldonado ultimately called those questions “moot” because of the late serving of charges, and found that the CCRB couldn’t prove all the elements required to deem the officers’ conduct criminal.
Among the main reasons the CCRB’s argument failed, according to Maldonado, is because the agency couldn’t disprove Thompson’s defense of a justified shooting based on the imminent threat that he said Trawick posed.
Maldonado agreed on a number of fronts, including that “Trawick’s failure to comply with [the officers’] immediate and repeated orders to put down the knife raised the threat level and reasonably elevated the officers’ safety concerns.”
She noted that even one of the CCRB’s expert witnesses, former Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan, backed Thompson’s safety concerns by saying, “I do believe that Officer Thompson did demonstrate … that he was in fear of his life.”
Taking the NYPD to Task
While Maldonado reserved the bulk of her criticism for the CCRB, her ruling also raised questions about the NYPD Force Investigation Division’s (FID) probe of the incident that found Thompson had acted “consistent” with departmental guidelines.
She wrote that she was “puzzled” that FID’s conclusion seemed to ignore the emotional crisis section of the patrol guide, and that it also ignored Davis’ multiple attempts to slow his partner’s actions down.
Maldonado wrote that if the NYPD had found in its initial investigation that Thompson had violated portions of the patrol guide, he could have been disciplined in a timely manner.
Instead, she said, the FID’s commanding officer compounded the problem with his testimony at the administrative trial by undermining “basic tenets” of the department’s procedure — such as by questioning whether the officers could have attempted to isolate Trawick by closing the apartment door.
“The FID Report and the trial testimony of its commanding officer leave this tribunal with disquieting questions about FID’s conclusion that Respondent Thompson acted ‘consistent’ with ‘Department guidelines,’” Maldonado wrote.
In May, an article in ProPublica also raised questions about the Force Investigation Division’s findings.
The news organization found that investigators didn’t ask follow-up questions to the two officers even when their testimony contradicted video footage of the incident, and that investigators failed to ask about Davis’ attempts to dissuade Thompson from using his Taser and his gun.