New York City Police Department fires officer at center of Eric Garner's death

The move comes roughly two weeks after a New York administrative judge recommended that Daniel Pantaleo be fired

Published August 19, 2019 2:15PM (EDT)

New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo leaves his house Monday, May 13, 2019, in Staten Island, N.Y. (AP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo leaves his house Monday, May 13, 2019, in Staten Island, N.Y. (AP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

The white New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer accused of fatally choking Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, has been fired, marking a turning point in a case that captured the nation's attention and prompted protests from coast to coast over the use of excessive force by police.

The move comes roughly two weeks after a New York administrative judge recommended Daniel Pantaleo's firing. NYPD Police Commissioner James O'Neill was expected to follow the recommendation made by Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado regarding the police officer, who was suspended from the NYPD pending O'Neill's decision.

"Trials Commissioner Maldonado ruled that officer Pantaleo's use of a prohibited chokehold was reckless and constituted a gross deviation from the standard of conduct established for a New York City police officer," O'Neill said at a press conference Monday, noting that Pantaleo will not receive his NYPD pension.

Despite her ruling on the use of a chokehold, Maldonado found that Pantaleo was not guilty of intentionally restricting Garner's breathing. Maldonado said Pantaleo used NYPD-approved tactics in an effort to arrest Garner before the chokehold, such as an arm bar, before ruling that Pantaleo did not intend to limit Garner's breathing.

Maldonado's recommendation followed a departmental trial earlier this year, in which Pantaleo declined to take the stand to explain his role in Garner's death in July 2014.

Pantaleo has been accused of using a prohibited chokehold on Garner while attempting to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes — a low-level misdemeanor. Video footage of the encounter appears to show Pantaleo holding Garner in a chokehold for 15 seconds, as Garner can be heard repeatedly uttering, "I can't breathe." During that time, another officer can be heard shouting, "He's down." Pantaleo did not let go.

Garner, a father of six, gasped and wailed that he could not breathe 11 times before going into cardiac arrest. He was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

In August 2014, Garner's death was ruled a homicide by the New York City medical examiner's office, and the medical examiner testified that Pantaleo's alleged chokehold caused Garner to have an asthma attack, which was "part of the lethal cascade of events."

Still, a grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict Pantaleo in late 2014, and the officer has remained on paid desk duty since Garner's death. Pantaleo has maintained he used approved an approved technique called the "seatbelt" on Garner.

In 2015, the city of New York paid out nearly $6 million to Garner's family in a settlement.

Last month, the Justice Department announced that it had declined to bring federal civil rights or criminal charges against Pantaleo following an extensive five-year investigation. The decision was announced one day before the fifth anniversary of Garner's death and the deadline federal authorities have to bring charges against Pantaleo.

U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue called Garner's death a "tremendous loss" but said "the evidence does not support charging police officer Pantaleo with a federal civil rights violation." He said there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pantaleo "willfully" used excessive force to violate Garner's rights, as required under the law.

Attorney General William Barr ultimately made the decision not to bring charges against Pantaleo.

Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, decried the decision not to pursue charges against Pantaleo during an emotional press conference last month. She invoked her son's dying words, "I can't breathe," which have become a rallying cry for police reform activists around the nation.

"We're here with heavy hearts because the DOJ has failed us," she said. "Five years ago, my son said, 'I can't breathe' 11 times. And today, we can't breathe, because they have let us down."

Carr called on the city to fire Pantaleo and vowed to "keep fighting" to hold the officers involved in the arrest accountable.

"We might not never know justice in the DOJ, but I think there will be justice and we're going to keep fighting," she said. "We're not going away, so you can forget that."

"We are asking the commissioner to make the right decision — that officer Pantaleo and all the officers who was involved in my son's death that day need to be off the force," she continued. "The streets of New York City are not safe with them walking around."

By Shira Tarlo

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