(NEW YORK) — More than five years after the death of Eric Garner was captured on cell phone video, the officer responsible for causing his death was terminated from New York City’s Police Department.
Since July 17, 2014, NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo has waited to learn whether he can remain on the force with the plainclothes anti-crime unit, lose vacations days or lose his job entirely.
Months after a disciplinary trial in May and June this year, Deputy Commissioner of Trials Judge Rosemarie Maldonado recommended to Police Commissioner James O’Neill that Pantaleo be removed from the force.
O’Neill announced Monday that Pantaleo was to be immediately terminated.
“It’s an extremely difficult decision,” O’Neill said at a news conference Monday. “If I was still a cop, I’d probably be mad at me… [but] it’s my responsibility as police commissioner to look out for the city.”
O’Neill said that he called New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to inform him of the decision before making the public announcement. He noted that he did not inform either Pantaleo or the Garner family of the decision before his announcement.
“There are absolutely no victors here today,” he added, noting that the inevitability of having to make this decision was something he knew he would have to face when he was sworn in as police commissioner in September 2016.
“Today is a day of reckoning but can also be a day of reconciliation,” he said.
“It’s in my DNA, it’s who I am,” O’Neill said of his background as a patrol officer himself. “But as police commissioner, I have to think about the city, and I have to think about the rules and [regulations] of the NYPD and make sure people follow them.”
Pantaleo, 35, of Staten Island, was on desk duty while collecting an annual salary of more than $97,000, according to public records. However, he was suspended after the judge’s recommendation — a practice when a civil servant is recommended to be fired, the NYPD said.
Judge Maldonado ruled that Daniel Pantaleo used the prohibited chokehold that caused Eric Garner’s death and Daniel Pantaleo must be terminated,” said Fred Davie, chairman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, at their monthly meeting on Aug. 14.
Chokeholds were banned by the NYPD in 1993.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said that the judge’s recommendation brought “some relief” after a Staten Island grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to bring criminal charges against Pantaleo.
The New York City’s medical examiner ruled that Garner’s death was a homicide due to the sequence of evidence started by Pantaleo’s chokehold that triggered a cascade of events and ended with a fatal asthma attack.
O’Neill’s decision elicited a swift rebuke from Patrick Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, who said that the commissioner “has chosen politics and his own self-interest over the police officers he claims to lead.” “He has chosen to cringe in fear of the anti-police extremists, rather than standing up for New Yorkers who want a functioning police department, with cops who are empowered to protect them and their families,” Lynch said in a statement. “With this decision, Commissioner O’Neill has opened the door for politicians to dictate the outcome of every single NYPD disciplinary proceeding, without any regard for the facts of the case or police officers’ due process rights.”
Davie released a statement after the decision, saying that the Garner family and the public “finally have closure.”
“Make no mistake: This process took entirely too long. And the tragic reality is that neither a verdict from a judge nor a decision by a police commissioner can reverse what happened on July 17, 2014,” Davie said in the statement.
“Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s termination from the New York City Police Department does not make the death of Eric Garner any less harrowing. But it is heartening to know that some element of justice has been served.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James released a statement after O’Neill’s announcement.
“While we will never be able to change the events that transpired or bring Mr. Garner back, today, some semblance of justice is finally being served,” she said.
Cell phone video of Garner’s death was seen by millions around the world. His last words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for grassroots organizations like Black Lives Matter, which continues to lead protest against police-involved deaths of unarmed civilians.
Chants of “Fire Pantaleo” interrupted Mayor Bill de Blasio during a Democratic presidential debate in Detroit in July.
Pantaleo’s attorney, Stuart London, maintained that his client used a “seat belt” method — a technique Pantaleo was formally taught — to subdue Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island.
London has said that Garner caused his own death because of his weight and previously diagnosed health conditions.
Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch wanted O’Neill to support Pantaleo and not fire him in order to allow officers “to be effective again.”
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