NYPD fires officer for death of Eric Garner

Po­lice com­mis­sioner said killing ‘must have a con­se­quence’

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - TOM HAYS AND MICHAEL R. SISAK

NEW YORK — Af­ter five years of in­ves­ti­ga­tions and protests, the New York City Po­lice De­part­ment on Mon­day fired an officer in­volved in the 2014 choke­hold death of the Black man whose dy­ing cries of “I can’t breathe” fu­elled a na­tional de­bate over race and po­lice use of force.

Po­lice Com­mis­sioner James O’Neill’s said he fired Daniel Pan­ta­leo, who is white, based on a re­cent rec­om­men­da­tion of a de­part­ment dis­ci­plinary judge. He said it was clear Pan­ta­leo “can no longer ef­fec­tively serve as a New York City po­lice officer.”

“None of us can take back our de­ci­sions,” O’Neill said, “es­pe­cially when they lead to the death of an­other hu­man be­ing.”

Asked whether Mayor Bill de Bla­sio forced his hand, O’Neill said the dis­missal was his choice. “This is the de­ci­sion that the po­lice com­mis­sioner makes,” he said, call­ing Eric Garner’s death an “ir­re­versible tragedy” that “must have a con­se­quence.”

The pres­i­dent of the po­lice union, Pa­trick Lynch, ac­cused O’Neill of choos­ing “pol­i­tics and his own self-in­ter­est over the po­lice of­fi­cers he claims to lead.”

Lynch urged po­lice of­fi­cers to “pro­ceed with the ut­most caution in this new re­al­ity, in which they may be deemed ‘reck­less’ just for doing their job.”

“Now it is time for ev­ery po­lice officer in this city to make their own choice,” he said in a state­ment. “We will up­hold our oath, but we can­not and will not do so by need­lessly jeop­ar­diz­ing our ca­reers or per­sonal safety.”

Video of the con­fronta­tion led to years of protests and calls by Black ac­tivists and lib­eral politi­cians for Pan­ta­leo to lose his job. City of­fi­cials had long in­sisted that they could not take ac­tion un­til crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions were com­plete.

A state grand jury de­clined to in­dict Pan­ta­leo in 2014. Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties, how­ever, kept a civil rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion open for five years be­fore an­nounc­ing last month they would not bring charges.

Pan­ta­leo’s lawyer has in­sisted the officer used a rea­son­able amount of force and did not mean to hurt Garner.

O’Neill said Pan­ta­leo ini­tially placed Garner in a choke­hold as the two men stum­bled back­ward into a glass win­dow. That, he said, was un­der­stand­able, given the struggle.

But af­ter the of­fi­cers got Garner on the ground, Pan­ta­leo did not re­lax his grip but “kept his hands clasped and main­tained the choke­hold.” That, he said, was the mis­take that cost him his job.

“That ex­i­gent cir­cum­stance no longer ex­isted when they moved to the ground,” O’Neill said.

Garner’s death came at the 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, Mo., over the fatal shoot­ing of teenager Michael Brown. And later in 2014, a man an­gry about the Garner and Brown cases shot two New York City po­lice of­fi­cers to death in their cruiser in ret­ri­bu­tion.

De Bla­sio never said whether he be­lieved Pan­ta­leo should lose his job but promised “jus­tice” to the slain man’s fam­ily.

At a re­cent ad­min­is­tra­tive trial at po­lice head­quar­ters, 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.

In a by­stander’s video, it ap­peared that Pan­ta­leo ini­tially tried to use two ap­proved re­straint tac­tics on Garner, who was much larger at six-foot-two and about 400 pounds, 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 footage showed Garner, who was 43 at the time, 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.

DREW AN­GERER GETTY IMAGES

New York City Po­lice De­part­ment Com­mis­sioner James O'Neill an­nounces the ter­mi­na­tion of officer Daniel Pan­ta­leo on Mon­day in New York City.

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