NYPD Suspends Officer Who Killed Eric Garner After Judge Says He Should Be Fired
By Catherina Gioino, Graham Rayman, Thomas Tracy and Rocco Parascandola
NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo was quickly suspended Friday after a departmental judge recommended the veteran cop's firing for the Staten Island chokehold death of Eric Garner five years ago.
Shortly after NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemary Maldonado's handed down her long-awaited decision in the Pantaleo probe, the officer was pulled off duty "as is the longstanding practice in these matters when the recommendation is termination," said NYPD spokesman Phil Walzak.
Members of the Garner family immediately called on Police Commissioner James O'Neill to fire Pantaleo, who was never criminally charged in the July 17, 2014, death of the 43-year-old Garner.
"Five years is too long," said the dead man's daughter, Emerald Snipes-Garner. "Commissioner O'Neill, do your job. We've been waiting for five years, and we don't want to wait no more."
Garner's mother Gwen Carr acknowledged the Maldonado decision provided some long-needed relief for the family, and urged the NYPD and the city to terminate the 13-year veteran. Pantaleo remained on duty and on the NYPD payroll for the past five years despite repeated calls for his firing.
"It's past time for Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD to end their obstruction, stop spreading misleading talking points and finally take action for my son," Carr said. "He should be fired without a pension, benefits or a 'good guy' letter."
O'Neill has yet to receive the draft report on the case or make any decision about following the commissioner's recommendation. NYPD insiders expect O'Neill to fire Pantaleo, who worked a desk job -- without his gun and shield -- since Garner's death.
Garner's dying declaration of "I can't breathe," repeated 11 times before he collapsed, galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement. The death was captured on smartphone video that was first reported by the Daily News and made headlines around the world.
Mayor de Blasio, at a City Hall news conference interrupted by activists shouting for Pantaleo's firing, expressed his hope the Garner family might finally experience closure from a wound left open by the legal system's inability to bring any criminal charges in the death.
"They were told over and over and over again that they government would do its job," the mayor said. "And they waited and waited and waited and nothing happened. And as all this stretched on, there was the suspicion felt by millions that justice doesn't exist for people who look like Eric Garner."
As the mayor spoke, the protesters burst into the Blue Room yelling "Fire Pantaleo! Fire Pantaleo!"
The Staten Island cop and the Civilian Complaint Review Board each have 10 business days to review the judge's recommendation and respond before the file goes to O'Neill for final disposition. The CCRB wasted no time in demanding the commissioner "uphold this verdict and dismiss Pantaleo from the Department."
Pantaleo was cleared in 2014 by a Staten Island grand jury in Garner's death on Bay Street, and federal prosecutors opted last month to pass on civil rights charges against the cop. Both decisions infuriated the dead man's family, and were greeted with anger and widespread demonstrations.
In her recommendation, Maldonado found Pantaleo guilty of one of the two charges against him -- recklessly using a chokehold banned by the NYPD. She cleared him of the second charge, intentionally restricting Garner's breathing. Pantaleo testified before the grand jury that he used a department-approved seatbelt takedown maneuver on Garner.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who supported Garner's family since the father of six died, said the fight in the case is far from over.
"Make no mistake about it, this is not justice for the Garner family," said Sharpton. "The commissioner needs to immediately, unequivocally accept the recommendation of the judge and remove him right away. The city should not have in its employ someone that would choke someone to death in violation of police guidelines.
"Someone that hears someone say 11 times 'I can't breathe.'"
Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch called Maldonado's decision "pure political insanity" that will "paralyze the NYPD for years to come."
"This judge ignored the evidence and trampled P.O. Pantaleo's due process rights in order to deliver the result that the grandstanding politicians and protesters demanded," said Lynch. "The only hope for justice now lies with Police Commissioner O'Neill. He knows the message that this decision sends to every cop: We are expendable, and we cannot expect any support from the city we protect.
"He knows that if he affirms this horrendous decision, he will lose his police department."
Pantaleo's lawyer Stu London argued at the department trial that Garner's poor health played a role in the death. Garner weighed 390 pounds and suffered from diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular problems. But the city Medical Examiner's office said it was a chokehold that set in motion a "lethal cascade" of events that ended in a fatal asthma attack.
London did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Pantaleo stands to lose his pension if he's fired, keeping only the money he contributed to the pension fund. If he decides to resign before O'Neill's decision, he forfeits the right to sue to get his job back.
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