'I can't breathe': NYPD fires officer who put Eric Garner in chokehold

Daniel Pantaleo held Garner in chokehold before his death, and his words became rallying cry for Black Lives Matter movement

A New York City police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed African American man killed by police on Staten Island in 2014, has been fired by the department.

The decision was announced by New York police department (NYPD) commissioner James O’Neill on Monday after an administrative police judge advised that officer Daniel Pantaleo should lose his job for misconduct during the arrest.

“In this case, the unintended consequence of Mr Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own,” O’Neill said, confirming his agreement with the judge’s recommendation.

He added: “It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”

Garner, 43, died after Pantaleo placed him in a banned chokehold during a botched arrest over the alleged sale of untaxed cigarettes more than five years ago. The incident was captured on cellphone video that showed Garner shouting “I can’t breathe” 11 times.

His final words became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement that protested around the US in the wake of Garner’s death and the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a month later.

O’Neill, who served as a uniformed officer in the department for more than three decades, said he had watched the video of Garner’s death a number of times and questioned how he would have behaved if he had been the responding officer. He criticized Garner’s decision to resist arrest as well as Pantaleo’s decision to use the banned chokehold.

“Every time I watch that video I say to myself, as probably all of you do, to Mr Garner, ‘Don’t do it, comply.’ Officer Pantaleo: ‘Don’t do it.’ I say that about the decisions made by both officer Pantaleo and Mr Garner. But none of us can take back our decisions, most especially when they lead to the death of another human being.”

Last month, the US justice department declined to indict Pantaleo on federal civil rights charges, meaning the former officer will face no criminal proceedings.

In 2015 the Garner family settled a civil lawsuit with the city for $5.9m after a grand jury on Staten Island declined to bring criminal charges.

Family members have long been frustrated at the slowness of the internal NYPD process. Pantaleo remained employed, earning more than $100,000 a year.

Speaking after the decision, Emerald Snipes-Garner, Garner’s daughter, said the family would now pursue statewide legislation to make police chokeholds illegal, and would pursue a congressional investigation into why the US justice department did not pursue civil rights charges.

“For Commissioner O’Neill, I thank you for doing the right thing,” Snipes-Garner said. “I truly, and sincerely thank you for firing the officer. Regardless of how you came to your decision, you finally made a decision that should have been made five years ago.”

On Monday Fred Davie, chair of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), the independent body that brought the disciplinary prosecution against Pantaelo, said: “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 17 July 2014. 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.

“Given the evidence the CCRB’s prosecutors presented at trial, the police commissioner had no option but to dismiss Pantaleo from the department. While 17 July is and always will be a somber day for the city of New York, today we can rest assured that Daniel Pantaleo will never patrol our streets again.”

O’Neill’s decision instantly ignited further tension between the city’s powerful police unions, which have lobbied for Pantaleo, and the city’s executive, including New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement O’Neill had “chosen politics and his own self-interest over the police officers he claims to lead”.

Lynch advised his 23,000 NYPD members to “proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job”.

Although De Blasio has never publicly called for Pantaleo to lose his job the mayor, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said at a debate last month he wanted justice to be served.

O’Neill said his decision to fire the officer had been based on the recommendations from the trial, and not pressure from city hall.


Oliver Laughland

The GuardianTramp

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