A New York City police department administrative judge has recommended that a police officer should be fired over the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black man whose dying words — "I can't breathe" — became a national rallying cry against police brutality.
The judge's findings in the disciplinary case of Officer Daniel Pantaleo were provided to his lawyer and the city agency that acted as a prosecutor at his department trial last spring.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board chairman said the judge had recommended Pantaleo be dismissed. Pantaleo's lawyer will have about two weeks to submit responses.
A final decision on whether to fire Pantaleo rests with police commissioner James O'Neill, who is expected to issue his decision later this month, according to NYPD spokesman Phillip Walzak.
Pantaleo has been suspended effective Friday pending that decision consistent with departmental policy, Walzak said. Walzak said that O'Neill has not yet been provided the draft report of the judge's recommendation, and that his decision will be based on a review of the completed report, which will include comments from Pantaleo's attorney and the CCRB.
"All of New York City understandably seeks closure to this difficult chapter in our city's history," Walzak said.
In a statement, Garner's daughter Emerald Snipes Garner said the family is calling on O'Neill to follow the recommendation and "fire Daniel Pantaleo now."
Garner's death — after he refused to be handcuffed for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes — came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that gave impetus to 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 juryon state charges in December 2014, demonstrations flared in New York and several other cities.
Pantaleo faced a long-delayed departmental trial in May to determine whether he violated department rules. The Justice Department last month said itagainst him after a five-year investigation.
The administrative judge, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, had been tasked with deciding whether Pantaleo used a banned chokehold to take Eric Garner to the ground during a tense confrontation on a Staten Island street. Pantaleo's lawyers had argued he used an approved "seat belt" technique to subdue Garner, but a medical examiner ruled a chokehold set off a lethal sequence of events.
"Today's decision confirms what the Civilian Complaint Review Board always has maintained: Officer Daniel Pantaleo committed misconduct on July 17, 2014, and his actions caused the death of Eric Garner," said Fred Davie, chairman of the review board that served as the prosecutor.
Garner's death has dogged Mayor Bill 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.
The head of the city's largest police union said the mayor had "blood on his hands" over the killings. Police officers turned their backs on the mayor at the officers' funerals.
De Blasio, now running 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 ofinterrupted de Blasio at Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate in Detroit.
Speaking at a press conference Friday, de Blasio said: "Today for the first time in these long five years, the system of justice is working."
He called the departmental trial process "fair and impartial" and said he hoped it would bring the Garner family a sense of closure and peace. He cited reforms and new training he said has changed the way the department polices the city.
"Full justice means there can never be another tragedy like the one that befell Eric Garner," de Blasio said.
New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch blasted the judge's recommendation as "pure political insanity." He said the judge "ignored evidence and trampled P.O. Pantaleo's due process rights in order to deliver the results that the grandstanding politicians and protesters demand."
He said if O'Neill upholds the decision, it will send a message to city officers that they are "expendable."
"[O'Neill] knows that if he affirms this horrendous decision, he will lose his police department," Lynch said.
In a statement, Garner's mother Gwen Carr said her family has fought for five years for justice for her son, but that de Blasio and the NYPD "have put up roadblocks and delays every step of the way." She called the judge's recommendation "long overdue," and said while it brings her some relief, she has not seen it.
Carr called for investigations of other officers involved, saying "we still have a ways to go before there is true accountability for Eric's murder."
"My son deserves more than recommendations; he deserves justice," she said.