NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigation (OSI) on February 4 released its report on the death of Greek-American George Zapantis of Queens. After conducting an exhaustive investigation, OSI concluded that the evidence does not indicate any New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer involved in the incident committed any crimes. OSI’s review of the incident included footage from police body-worn cameras, civilian cell phone video footage, interviews with witnesses, and other forms of evidence.
On the evening of June 21, 2020, members of NYPD went to a residence in Whitestone, Queens after a 911 report about an incident involving a gun. Neighbors told the officers there was a confrontation with Zapantis, but said there was no gun involved. Officers spoke with Zapantis at length through the door to his home. They could see through the windows of his home that Zapantis was dressed in gladiator attire, including a helmet, shield, and sword. Officers called for the Emergency Services Unit, and meanwhile continued talking to Zapantis to de-escalate the situation. Zapantis became agitated and broke through the door of his home and physically engaged the officers. Officers attempted to restrain Zapantis with handcuffs and, during a minutes-long struggle, used tasers three times. Zapantis became unresponsive after the final taser use. Emergency Medical Services, who had been standing by, attempted life-saving measures and transported Zapantis to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead about 50 minutes later. The Medical Examiner concluded the cause of Zapantis’ death was cardiac arrest due to dilated cardiomyopathy during physical restraint by police, including conducted electrical weapon use.
Under New York’s justification law, one may use physical force to defend oneself against physical force used by another. In a criminal case, if a person raises the defense of justification, the prosecutor must disprove justification beyond a reasonable doubt. OSI analyzed this case in light of the law of justification and concluded that a prosecutor would not be able to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers’ conduct was justified: the evidence indicates the officers used reasonable physical force in response to the physical force used by Zapantis. As a result of the facts and circumstances of this case, OSI will not seek charges in this matter.
“Our office is committed to examining each and every case thoroughly, fairly, and transparently,” said Attorney General James. “Based on an extensive review of the facts in this case, OSI determined that the officers involved took appropriate measures first to try to de-escalate the situation, and ultimately were legally justified in their actions. Despite that conclusion, the Zapantis family is still coping with the tragic loss of a loved one, and I extend my deepest condolences to his entire family.”
Zapantis’ mother, Athanasia, told The City that she was “very, very upset” and “very, very disappointed” in the attorney general’s conclusions.
“You killed my son in his house,” she told The City, adding that “there were so many cops outside — they can’t hold him? Did they have to kill him?”
“Zapantis’ death was one of many that raised questions about the city’s response to mental health crises,” The City reported, noting that “at least 16 people with psychiatric challenges have died at the hands of police in New York City since 2015, a trend that has spurred calls to send mental health professionals instead of police to those incidents.”