Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City police officer whose chokehold caused Eric Garner’s death in 2014, was fired from the NYPD and stripped of his pension, announced NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill on Monday.
Eric Garner, a Staten Island family father of six died on July 17, 2014, after being held in an illegal chokehold by Pantaleo, who did not let up despite Garner pleading “I can’t breathe,” rendering him unconscious and causing him to suffer a heart attack subsequently.
Following the incident, Pantaleo was put on desk duty and stripped of his gun and badge. An internal affairs inquiry by the NYPD recommended disciplinary charges against him. But no charges were filed; both the Staten Island district attorney and the Justice Department declined.
O’Neill dismissed Pantaleo just over two weeks after a police administrative judge had found him guilty of “using a prohibited chokehold that was reckless and constituted a gross deviation from the standard of conduct established for a New York City police officer,” reports the NY Times.
“There are absolutely no victors here today – not the Garner family, not the community-at-large and certainly not the courageous men and women of this police department, who put their own lives on the line every single day in service to the people of this great city,” said O’Neill.
The commissioner explained in great detail how he arrived at what he said was an agonizing decision. O’Neill noted that Garner should have not resisted arrest when he was accused of selling untaxed cigarettes. He also said that Pantaleo had failed to relax his grip on Garner’s neck after he tackled him to the ground, and “consciously disregarded the substantial and unjustifiable risks of a maneuver explicitly prohibited by the department.”
“The unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own,” said O’Neill. “It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who formerly served as an NYPD captain, supported the commissioner’s decision.
“Commissioner O’Neill’s decision was, I believe, the correct one,” said Adams. “Police officers carry the authority to take away life and liberty; with that authority comes the highest standard of responsibility to utilize the full range of de-escalation tools at their disposal.”
NY Attorney General Letitia James vowed to continue to fight for more police accountability and criminal justice reforms.
“For over five years, the Garner family and communities across the country have waited for justice in the death of Eric Garner,” said James. “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. In memory of Eric Garner and the countless others who have unjustly lost their lives, we will continue to fight for reforms to fix our broken criminal justice system and ensure that all of our communities feel safe.”
With his dismissal, Pantaleo will lose his pension but is entitled to the money he invested during his 13-year career. He may appeal the decision under state civil service law.
“Today is a day of reckoning but can also be a day of reconciliation,” said O’Neill. “We must move forward together as one city, determined to secure safety for all — safety for all New Yorkers and safety for every police officer working daily to protect all of us.”
***Correction: In an earlier version of this article, we attributed the wrong quote to New York State Attorney General Letitia James. We have updated this story with the correct statement provided by the AG’s office.
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