New York City’s police commissioner has fired a police officer involved in the 2014 death of Eric Garner. Police Commissioner James O’Neill made the announcement Monday afternoon.
O’Neill had been deliberating whether to accept a disciplinary judge’s recommendation that Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, be fired for using a banned chokehold on Garner, an African American man who was unarmed. Garner’s dying words of “I can’t breathe” became a flash point in a national debate over race and police use of force.
Garner’s death came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that sparked the national Black Lives Matter movement.
Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. And later in 2014, a man angry about the Garner and Brown cases shot two New York City police officers to death in their cruiser in retribution.
Speaking Monday, community activists who have long called on city leaders to fire Pantaleo said the decision was five years overdue. Garner’s mother Gwen Carr, who has led a grassroots movement of advocates seeking justice in her son’s death, addressed the officer directly, saying: “Pantaleo, you may have lost your job, but I lost a son.”
Carr said the family wants to see action taken against the other officers who were present during Garner’s fatal arrest.
Eric Garner’s daughter Emerald Snipes Garner said Monday that she wanted to thank O’Neill “for doing the right thing” in firing Pantaleo. But she said her family’s fight for justice “is not over.” The family is calling for an “Eric Garner Law” passed that would make police chokeholds illegal.
Pantaleo’s lawyer has said the officer didn’t mean to hurt Garner and insisted he did not use the banned chokehold. But in a disciplinary recommendation obtained by the New York Times, NYPD administrative judge Rosemarie Maldonado said video of the fatal encounter and autopsy results provided “overwhelming” evidence that Pantaleo used the banned maneuver. In the recommendation that followed a recent administrative trial, she reportedly found Pantaleo was “untruthful” during questioning when he denied using the chokehold.
According to the Times, Maldonado wrote that Pantaleo’s “use of a chokehold fell so far short of objective reasonableness that this tribunal found it to be reckless — a gross deviation from the standard of conduct established for a New York City police officer.”
O’Neill said he agreed with Maldonado’s recommendation to fire Pantaleo. He said it was clear that Pantaleo “can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”
“None of us can take back our decisions,” O’Neill said, “especially when they lead to the death of another human being.”