New York, NY – New York Police Department (NYPD) Police Commissioner James O’Neill on Monday announced the termination of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in connection with the death of Eric Garner.
“The unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own,” Commissioner O’Neill told reporters at a press conference at NYPD headquarters.
He disputed rumors that City Hall and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had ordered him to fire the controversial police officer, and said his 34 years as an NYPD police officer had made it a difficult decision.
“If I was still a cop, I’d probably be mad at me. ‘You’re not looking out for us.’ But I am,” Commissioner O’Neill said.
He said that he had considered a separation option for Officer Pantaleo that would have let him keep his pension, but ultimately, decided to do a straight forward termination.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo had been suspended since Aug. 2 after an NYPD trial judge said he was guilty of using a chokehold on Eric Garner and should be fired.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado issued a non-binding verdict that said Officer Pantaleo was not guilty of aggravated assault or obstructing breathing, but that he had violated department policy regarding the use of chokeholds, WABC reported.
In her decision, Maldonado said she found Officer Pantaleo’s denial of having used a chokehold on Garner “implausible and self-serving,” The New York Times reported.
She claimed the video and the autopsy showed “overwhelming evidence” Officer Pantaleo had used a chokehold despite being trained not to. The autopsy showed no damage to Garner’s neck.
Deputy Commissioner Maldonado’s recommendation was forwarded to NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill, who held the power to make the ultimate determination about the fate of the officer’s employment.
Officer Pantaleo was on desk duty for five years after the incident with Garner in July of 2014 until he was suspended on Aug. 2.
Garner was arrested by NYPD officers on July 17, 2014, after police stopped him for selling individual, untaxed loose cigarettes on a city sidewalk.
He resisted arrest and fought with officers who struggled to take the 350-pound man into custody.
In the process of subduing Garner, video taken by witnesses showed that Officer Pantaleo had his arm around Garner’s neck and pressed his face against the sidewalk.
Garner repeatedly told officers “I can’t breathe,” a phrase that became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter in the months that followed.
Officer Pantaleo later said he tried to use a “seatbelt maneuver” on Garner, and did not mean to put the much larger man into a choke hold.
Garner lost consciousness on the sidewalk, and died in the hospital an hour later from a medical emergency.
The autopsy report showed no damage to any area of his neck, and it was determined that he died of a medical emergency induced by officers who were arresting him. The medical examiner declared it was a homicide.
A New York Grand Jury declined to indict on any criminal charges.
The federal inquiry has dragged on for years and split the Justice Department in half between those who want to go after the officer and those who thought the officer did nothing wrong, according to The New York Times.
Donoghue explained federal prosecutors’ decision not to charge Officer Pantaleo.
The U.S. attorney said that while Garner’s death was a tragedy, “the evidence does not support charging Police Officer Pantaleo with a federal civil rights violation.”
He said federal prosecutors could not prove that the officer “willfully used excessive force to violate Mr. Garner’s rights as required under the law,” The New York Times reported.
But Commissioner O’Neill also said that, had he been in Officer Pantaleo’s shoes, he might have made some of the same mistakes.
The commissioner said that he was confident NYPD officers would respect his decision in the matter and would understand why he had done it and brushed off concerns about the police union’s reaction.
Earlier this month, Police Benevolent Association (PBA) President Patrick Lynch warned of the impact on the entire police force if Commissioner O’Neill took the recommendation to fire Officer Pantaleo.
“This decision is pure political insanity. If it is allowed to stand, it will paralyze the NYPD for years to come,” PBA President Patrick Lynch said in a statement.
The police union and the mayor are holding dueling press conferences at 2 p.m. to address Officer Pantaleo’s termination.