(AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, File)

NYPD Judge Recommends Firing Officer in Eric Garner Death

Used Chokehold That Killed Garner

August 02, 2019 - 2:44 pm
Categories: 

By MICHAEL R. SISAK Associated Press

 

NEW YORK (AP) — An administrative judge on Friday recommended firing the New York City police officer accused of using a chokehold in the 2014 death of an unarmed black man whose dying pleas of "I can't breathe" became a rallying cry against alleged police brutality.

The final decision on whether to fire Officer Daniel Pantaleo over his role in the death of Eric Garner will be made by the city's police commissioner later this month, but the department suspended Pantaleo from duty shortly after the judge's decision became public.

Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the judge's report as "a step toward justice and accountability."

"Today, for the first time in these long five years, the system of justice is working," de Blasio said. "I hope this will now bring the Garner family a sense of closure and the beginning of some peace."

Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, said the judge's report brought her "some relief" but was overdue and fell short of true accountability.

"It's past time for Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD to end their obstruction, stop spreading misleading talking points and finally take action for my son," she said in a statement.

Garner's death came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that sparked the national Black Lives Matter movement. Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

When a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, 33, on state charges in December 2014, demonstrations flared in New York and several other cities.

The judge's findings were provided to his lawyer and the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the watchdog agency that acted as a prosecutor at his department trial last spring.

Under department rules, Pantaleo's lawyer will have about two weeks to respond before Police Commissioner James O'Neill makes his decision.

Department spokesman Phillip Walzak said Pantaleo's suspension was standard in disciplinary cases where termination is recommended. He wouldn't comment further.

The administrative judge, Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, had been tasked with deciding whether Pantaleo used a banned chokehold to take Garner to the ground during a tense confrontation on a Staten Island street.

Pantaleo's lawyers argued he used an approved "seat belt" technique to subdue Garner, who refused to be handcuffed after officers accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes.

Videos taken by bystanders showed Garner crying out, "I can't breathe," at least 11 times before he fell unconscious. The medical examiner's office said a chokehold contributed to Garner's death.

The head of the city's largest police union called the judge's recommendation "political insanity" and warned that, if O'Neill fires Pantaleo, it will paralyze the department.

"He knows the message that this decision sends to every cop: We are expendable, and we cannot expect any support from the city we protect. He knows that if he affirms this horrendous decision, he will lose his police department," said Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch.

Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, was scheduled to speak Friday afternoon.

The details of Maldonado's report were not disclosed, but Civilian Complaint Review Board Chairman Fred Davie said the judge's recommendation confirms what the agency had argued at the trial: that Pantaleo's use of a chokehold caused Garner's death.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, appearing with two of Garner's children, called on the police commissioner to "immediately and unequivocally" accept the recommendation.

"But," he added, "make no mistake about it, this is not justice for the Garner family. Justice for the Garner family would have been a federal proceeding or a criminal proceeding in the local courts."

Last month, the day before the fifth anniversary of Garner's death, federal prosecutors announced they would not bring criminal charges against Pantaleo following a five-year civil rights investigation.

Pantaleo initially tried to use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, much larger at 6-foot-2 (188 centimeters) and about 400 pounds (180 kilograms) but ended up wrapping his arm around Garner's neck for about seven seconds as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to the sidewalk.

The officer was stripped of his gun and put on desk duty after the death but continued to draw a salary, with his pay peaking at more than $120,000 in 2017, according to city records.

Garner's death has dogged de Blasio since it happened in his first year in office.

His initial statements after the death were critical of the officers involved, and he talked publicly about having had to warn his own son, who is black, to be careful during any encounters with police. Then, as protests flared, a disturbed man angry about the Garner and Brown cases ambushed and killed two New York City police officers as they sat in their cruiser.

Lynch, of the police union, said at the time that the mayor had "blood on his hands" over the killings. Police officers turned their backs on de Blasio at the officers' funerals.

De Blasio, now running for the Democratic nomination for president, wound up infuriating police reform advocates, too, by allowing the department to wait for years to begin disciplinary proceedings against Pantaleo. The delay was due to the city's desire to avoid interfering in the ongoing federal civil rights investigation.

Chants of "Fire Pantaleo" interrupted de Blasio at Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate in Detroit. Protesters briefly interrupted de Blasio's news conference Friday chanting the same thing.

The disclosure of Maldonado's decision came about two months after the end of Pantaleo's seven-day department trial. Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, the supervising officer at the scene, faces a department trial, but it hasn't been scheduled. 

 

    (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press.  All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Tags: