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A New York police officer admitted making a racist threat — but still has a job

Michael J. Reynolds, a New York City police officer, landed in Nashville, Tennessee, on a Sunday morning in July 2018, court records show. He and six other men, two of whom he later identified as New York City officers, were on what was supposed to be a three-night bachelor-party junket.

About 18 hours later, Reynolds, who is white, kicked in a black woman’s door in a drunken rage, threatening her and her sons with a racist slur and obscenities.

“I’ll break every bone in your neck,” he said in a rant that included two expletives. He then fled to his nearby Airbnb rental just before police arrived.

This month, he was sentenced to 15 days in jail and three years’ probation after pleading no contest to four misdemeanors as a result of the episode, court records show.

As of Monday, though, he remained an officer, stirring a growing backlash against the New York Police Department. More than 10,000 people signed an online petition demanding his dismissal and supporting the woman whose home he invaded, Conese Halliburton.

“Michael Reynolds is a violent and dangerous racist who has no business carrying either a badge or a gun,” her lawyer, Daniel Horwitz, said via email. “Ms. Halliburton wants the NYPD to fire him immediately so that he can’t hurt anyone else.”

The Police Department said last week that Reynolds was on “modified duty” and that the disciplinary process was awaiting the Nashville case’s conclusion. Asked about the matter again Monday, a top department official said the process “was moving forward and questioning will take place imminently.”

Reynolds, 26, apologized in court for the episode and claimed that he had no memory of it because he had been drinking heavily.

“I’m sorry,” he testified. “I made a mistake. I consumed too much alcohol.”

Edward Yarbrough, Reynolds’ lawyer, said that because of the jail time, “We think his job is in jeopardy.” Yarbrough had sought a sentence that could have allowed his client to keep his job and have his record expunged in several years.

The case of Reynolds is again focusing scrutiny on the pace of the Police Department’s disciplinary process. In a prominent example of how it can drag on, five years passed before Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a prohibited chokehold contributed to the 2014 death in police custody of Eric Garner, was fired and stripped of his pension benefits in August.

The police commissioner has the ultimate say over firings, but police unions typically fight such moves. Officers who are ousted sometimes sue to try to get back their jobs and benefits, as Pantaleo is doing.

Reynolds’ crimes did not occur in the line of duty, nor did he cause physical injuries. But Halliburton testified that he had done significant psychological damage.

“My kids want to move,” she said at the sentencing Dec. 6. “They don’t want to be in that house anymore. We don’t have peace. To know that you’ve been living somewhere all your life, and you don’t have that anymore, and where would you go, it’s not fair.”

In court, Halliburton, the prosecutor, the judge and Reynolds’ own lawyer all used the same term — terrorize — to describe what Reynolds had done to Halliburton’s family that night.

The episode, some of which, including audio of Reynolds’ ranting, was captured by a neighbor’s security cameras, began shortly after 2:30 a.m. on July 9, 2018.

At the time, Halliburton testified, she was lying in bed talking with her youngest son in her house in Nashville’s 12 South section.

“I could hear, like, someone, like, yelling,” she said.

Looking out a window, her son saw a man who turned out to be Reynolds in the yard. Halliburton called 911. While she was on the phone, she said, she heard “like a boom, boom, boom.”

“It sounds like he’s trying to come in my house,” she recalled telling the 911 operator.

Moments later, she said, Reynolds was inside. Her two dogs ran to protect her, barking and biting at his shorts. He tried to fight them off.

“He just kept coming down the hallway,” she said.

Halliburton said that her two eldest sons, who were 17 and 20 at the time, tried to stop him from coming any farther into the house. He did not budge.

“He was in the house for, like, seven, eight minutes,” Halliburton testified.

It was during this time that security cameras captured Reynolds screaming a racist slur at Halliburton and her family and threatening them with violence.

He left, she said, after appearing to comprehend that the police were coming.

When officers arrived, she described the intruder to them and suggested they talk to the men staying at the Airbnb two doors away.

Before storming into Halliburton’s house, Reynolds testified, he and his friends had been drinking in Nashville’s Lower Broadway area. He said he did not know how much alcohol he had consumed.

The only thing he remembered, he testified, was identifying himself as a police officer when speaking to a Nashville officer who answered Halliburton’s call. He said he learned about what he had done from his friends later.

Halliburton and two neighbors confronted Reynolds and his friends later that day in the street.

Halliburton and the neighbors testified that the men, including Reynolds and a man he identified as a fellow New York City officer, apologized.

Reynolds said he had gone into the home by mistake, thinking that it was their rental.

But Halliburton and the neighbors also testified that the officers were laughing at the same time, saying that they had “immunity” because they were law enforcement officers.

Nashville detectives later tracked down Reynolds, and Halliburton and her sons identified him from a photo array.

After being charged with aggravated burglary and assault, he pleaded no contest in September to aggravated criminal trespassing and three counts of assault. He is to report to jail Jan. 15 if he does not appeal his sentence before then.

In arguing that Reynolds, a five-year Police Department veteran previously assigned to the 33rd Precinct in Upper Manhattan, deserved jail time, Brian Ewald, the prosecutor, said Reynolds and his friends had tried to “bully their way through this or out of this.”

“Keep quiet, don’t tell anybody a thing and we’ll get out of this,” Ewald said in describing the men’s attitude. “You know, we went, we cut up in another city, what happens in Nashville stays in Nashville, let’s get out of town early and live our lives.”

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