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Daniel Pantaleo, cop who used banned chokehold in 2014 Eric Garner death, is fired from NYPD

August 19, 2019 David Brand and Noah Goldberg
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The NYPD officer who used a banned chokehold that led to the death of Eric Garner was fired Monday, five years after Garner’s final words — “I can’t breathe” — fueled the nationwide #BlackLivesMatter movement and spurred calls for police accountability.

NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill affirmed an administrative judge’s July recommendation to fire Officer Daniel Pantaleo for using a prohibited chokehold to take Garner to the ground while arresting the Staten Island man in July 2014. The termination became effective immediately.

“A hardworking police officer with a family, a man who took this job to do good, to make a difference in his home community, has now lost his chosen career,” said a visibly emotional O’Neill at a press conference at police headquarters in Manhattan.

The death of Garner, who is black, at the hands of Pantaleo, who is white, was one of several high-profile incidents that stoked a movement to end aggressive enforcement and overpolicing in communities of color. It also led the NYPD to train officers in de-escalation tactics.

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O’Neill said NYPD rank-and-file will continue to do their jobs in the wake of his decision, but acknowledged the concerns of beat cops.

“If I was still a cop I’d probably be mad at me — I would — for not looking out for us,” O’Neill said.

He also said he might have made “similar mistakes” if he were in Pantaleo’s situation and that Garner should not have resisted arrest.

“Every time I watch that video, I say to myself — as probably all of you do — to Mr. Garner, ‘Don’t do it. Comply. Officer Pantaleo, don’t do it.’”

A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in 2014, but the case dragged on for five years as the Department of Justice weighed bringing a civil rights case against Pantaleo. The DOJ decided not to charge Pantaleo last month, on the eve of the five-year anniversary of Garner’s death.

That decision left the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the independent agency that handles claims of NYPD officer abuse and misconduct, as the last means of holding Pantaleo accountable for Garner’s death.

CCRB Chairperson Fred Davie said O’Neill’s decision was “heartening,” but he criticized the delay.

“Make no mistake: This process took entirely too long,” Davie said. “And the tragic reality is that neither a verdict from a judge nor a decision by a police commissioner can reverse what happened on July 17, 2014.”

O’Neill said he, too, was frustrated by the slow pace of the process. In future cases, O’Neill promised, the NYPD will have “more forceful discussions with the other agencies that are investigating” to ensure the case does not “drag on.”

“Members of the public in general — and Mr. Garner’s family in particular — had grown understandably impatient,” O’Neill said. “What I learned is that we wouldn’t let this linger for five years. It’s too long,” he added. “It’s unfair to the family. It’s unfair to everybody involved in this case.”

Pantaleo will lose his pension but is entitled to the money he invested during his 13-year career. He has been on desk duty since Garner’s death. Pantaleo can appeal the decision under state civil service law.

“Commissioner O’Neill’s decision was, I believe, the correct one,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain who co-founded 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care before entering politics. “Police officers carry the authority to take away life and liberty; with that authority comes the highest standard of responsibility to utilize the full range of de-escalation tools at their disposal.”

O’Neill said Monday that he had not yet spoken with Pantaleo or with Garner’s family. Asked whether he would speak with Pantaleo, O’Neill said, “Probably not.” The NYPD has reached out to the Garner family, but has not yet heard back, O’Neill said.

Garner’s mother Gwen Carr, an advocate for police accountability, did not immediately respond to phone calls from the Brooklyn Eagle.

“This is a tragedy for the Garner family. I fully understand that,” O’Neill said when asked by the Eagle what he would say to the Garner family. “Mr. Garner was somebody’s son and somebody’s dad. Everybody in the NYPD understands that.”

Follow reporter Noah Goldberg on Twitter.


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