The former New York City Police Department officer who put Eric Garner in a banned chokehold lost his state court appeal on Thursday, which sought to reverse the discipline that fired him from his job.
More than half a decade before George Floyd’s dying gasps of “I can’t breathe” reanimated activism for racial justice last year, Garner uttered the same last words on July 17, 2014, back when the Black Lives Matter movement was still in its nascent stages.
Ex-NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Garner in the chokehold, was never prosecuted for Garner’s death, despite city medical examiners ruling it a homicide. The most Pantaleo faced for the act was an administrative trial within the NYPD in 2019, where the department’s deputy commissioner fired him after finding credible evidence supporting his guilt of third-degree assault.
A New York appellate court reviewing that decision found ample evidence supporting that finding.
“Substantial evidence supports respondents’ conclusion that petitioner recklessly caused injury to Eric Garner by maintaining a prohibited chokehold for 9 to 10 seconds after exigent circumstances were no longer present, thereby disregarding the risk of injury,” a four-judge panel found.
Judges Dianne T. Renwick, Barbara R. Kapnick, Jeffrey K. Oing, and Peter H. Moulton co-signed the 4-page ruling.
“We do not find the penalty ‘so disproportionate to the offense, in light of all the circumstances, as to be shocking to one’s sense of fairness,'” the opinion states. “Conduct far less serious than petitioner’s has been found by the Court of Appeals to have a ‘destructive impact … on the confidence which it is so important for the public to have in its police officers.'”
Now approaching the seventh year after Garner’s death, his family continues to fight in the courts for accountability, led by his mother, Gwen Carr.
Retiring from her job as a train operator in 2015, Carr started a life in activism. Her family’s civil lawsuit reached a $5.9 million settlement, but criminal prosecution proved elusive. Carr filed a petition two years ago seeking a judicial inquiry that would serve as a fact-finding mission for the trial that never was.
“They should stand accountable for their wrongdoings,” Carr told Law&Crime in an interview in November.
“There is no area of local government where public accountability is more necessary than policing, especially when police conduct results in the loss of life,” the Garner family’s attorney, Gideon Oliver, wrote in a 25-page petition in August 2019.
“Yet, there has been scant information released by the city about Mr. Garner’s death,” the petition states. “For example, the city has not even identified all of the NYPD officers present at the scene. Further, the public has been made aware of only one disciplinary proceeding: Daniel Pantaleo, the officer whose chokehold led to Mr. Garner’s death, had a semi-public administrative hearing that failed to address several unanswered questions and, indeed, raised even more questions.”
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden advanced that probe, and late last year, she rejected an effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration that would have delayed it.
Pantaleo’s counsel Stuart London, of the firm Worth, Longworth & London, told Law&Crime that they are disappointed in the decision and “carefully reviewing” any options for appellate review.
Carr applauded the court’s ruling keeping Pantaleo out of the police force, but she added the city’s work is not done yet.
“I’m glad that they did the right thing, denying him his job, because a police officer like him doesn’t belong on the streets harming other New Yorkers,” Carr wrote in a statement. “The NYPD and the Mayor now need to fire other officers like Justin D’Amico and Lt. Christopher Bannon, who were involved in my son’s killing and are still on the force.”
Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy group associated with Carr, called upon de Blasio to drop an appeal of her judicial inquiry and fire those officers earlier this week.
Read the decision below:
(Screenshot from the viral video of the Pantaleo chokehold on Garner, via ABC)
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