NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill tried his best to bury the lede, but the firing of Daniel Pantaleo rang bells around the five boroughs.
On Monday, August 19, the commish announced the firing of Pantaleo due to his role in the death of Eric Garner. Garner’s death, after Pantaleo put him in a chokehold, became a rallying cry for those affected by police brutality. The words “I Can’t Breathe” entered the country’s collective lexicon.
“It is a decision that necessarily requires fairness and impartiality for Mr. Garner, who died following that encounter with police,” said O’Neill while reading a statement to media members during a news conference. “It is also a decision that requires fairness and impartiality for Officer Pantaleo, who was sent by this department to assess a situation and take appropriate police action.”
But that didn’t mean that the commissioner didn’t lay a little blame on the victim as well.
“Every time I watched the video, I say to myself, as probably all of you do, to Mr. Garner: ‘Don’t do it. Comply,’” said O’Neill. “To Officer Pantaleo: ‘Don’t do it.’ I said that about the decisions made by both Officer Pantaleo and Mr. Garner.”
National Action Network President Al Sharpton said the firing of Pantaleo for “an illegal process” was the right thing to do.
“Let us be real clear that though I agree with the decision of the commissioner to follow the recommendation of Judge Rosemarie Maldonado….that in the process, let’s not convict Eric Garner of things that did not end up proven in the court of law,” said Sharpton to reporters at NAN headquarters. “To say Eric Garner did [something that] has not been established is to desecrate the memory of a man who was the victim here. Let us also remember that there were other officers involved that ought to also be dealt with. There was the arrest report saying he had 10,000 cigarettes when he did not. What’s going to happen to that officer? There were allegations that he was selling and there were eyewitnesses who said he was breaking up a fight.”
Maldonado presided over the administrative trial of Pantaleo earlier this year. Delays and requests for breaks in testimony littered the proceedings. After a four-day delay during the trial, it resumed for about three hours before Pantaleo’s legal representation requested a two-week break. They said that it would take that long for a medical examiner from Missouri to fly in to New York to testify. Before the trial began, Pantaleo requested days off because he had a pre-scheduled a vacation. Then, his lawyers said that they couldn’t schedule witnesses on Monday.
New York City medical examiner Dr. Floriana Persechino had already declared that Garner died via chokehold and ruled it a homicide. But the judge still recommended that Pantaleo be dismissed from the NYPD.
Pantaleo now joins Sgt. Kizzy Adonis as the only officers involved in the incident who have seen any consequences for their actions. Adonis won’t see a departmental trial and was docked 20 vacation days for failing to properly supervise Pantaleo in the arrest of Garner.
In a statement, Sharpton said the docking of Adonis’ vacation days were also too late.
“The decision by the NYPD to dock Sgt. Kizzy Adonis twenty vacation days is too little too late. In fact, the loss of vacation days is akin to no penalty at all. If the penalty for not doing your job is that you can keep doing your job, it is an injustice to the family of Eric Garner and the residents of New York City,” said Sharpton. “We want all of the officers involved in Eric’s case to be brought to justice, including the NYPD Lt. Christopher Bannon who texted another officer that the incident with Eric Garner was ‘not a big deal.’ We will continue to press for justice on all avenues, including with congressional hearings in the fall as agreed to by Representative Jerry Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee.”
“Commissioner O’Neill I thank you for doing the right thing,” said Emerald Snipes Garner, daughter of Eric Garner to reporters at NAN headquarters. “Regardless of however you came to your decision, you finally made a decision that should’ve been made five
“We will be going to the congressional hearings,” Emerald continued. “We will be trying to reopen the case. We will be going after the rest of the officers involved because it’s not over.”
On July 17, 2014, Pantaleo and other officers were captured on video attempting to arrest Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island’s Tompkinsville neighborhood. A video, recorded by Ramsey Orta, showed Pantaleo using a chokehold, while Garner is audibly heard stating that he couldn’t breathe.
Officer William Meems testified to Civilian Complaint Review Board prosecutor Suzanne O’Hare that he thought Garner was pretending to be unconscious when he collapsed. Officer Justin Damico said that he thought Garner was “playing possum” and said Garner became “irate” when he tried to deescalate the situation.
A Richmond County grand jury didn’t indict Pantaleo for Garner’s death. Organizations like the NAACP, the New York Civil Liberties Union and current New York State Public Attorney (then New York City Public Advocate) Letitia James believed that now former Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan cherry-picked which grand jury information would be made public.
CCRB Chair Fred Davie said in statement that while the NYPD did the right thing, it shouldn’t have taken them this long.
“Make no mistake: This process took entirely too long. 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,” stated Davie. “Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s termination from the New York City Police Department does not make the death of Eric Garner any less harrowing. But it is heartening to know that some element of justice has been served.”
“For over five years, the Garner family and communities across the country have waited for justice in the death of Eric Garner,” added James in a statement. “While we will never be able to change the events that transpired or bring Mr. Garner back, today, some semblance of justice is finally being served.”
In the five years between Garner’s death and the firing of Pantaleo, protests against police brutality littered the city with organizers voicing their displeasure at a system they feel has failed them. On Dec. 5, 2014, the police responded with Long Range Acoustic Devices, or LRADs (which are normally used by the military).
These devices can top decibels levels on par with a powersaw and could be used as loudspeakers to disperse crowds. Several protesters sued the NYPD and then commissioner William Bratton alleging ear damage, nausea and migraines caused by the use of LRADs. The case is still ongoing.
In the five years between Garner’s death and Pantaleo’s firing, Garner’s stepfather Ben died at his daughter Elisha Flagg-Garner’s wedding in Jamaica. Garner’s own daughter, Erica, died of a heart attack at age 27 after giving birth to her
But in the five years since Garner’s death and Pantaleo’s firing, the Police Benevolent Association and its president, Pat Lynch, believe that the city succumbed to outside forces. The PBA see themselves as an army without a leader. Lynch said the decision leaves the NYPD “rudderless and frozen.”
“Police Commissioner O’Neill has made his choice: he has chosen politics and his own self-interest over the police officers he claims to lead,” stated Lynch. “He has chosen to cringe in fear of the anti-police extremists, rather than standing up for New Yorkers who want a functioning police department, with cops who are empowered to protect them and their families.
“With this decision, Commissioner O’Neill has opened the door for politicians to dictate the outcome of every single NYPD disciplinary proceeding, without any regard for the facts of the case or police officers’ due process rights,” Lynch continued. “He will wake up tomorrow to discover that the cop-haters are still not satisfied, but it will be too late. The damage is already done”
New York City Bill de Blasio, currently in the middle of a presidential campaign, spoke at City Hall calling this a “pivotal moment” in New York City’s history and encouraged everyone to “look beyond” this tragedy.
“For the Garner family that has gone through so much agony for so long and has waited this long just to have one trial finally conclude with a decision,” said de Blasio. “I hope today brings some small measure of closure. Today will not bring Eric Garner back but I hope it brings some small measure of closure and peace to the Garner family.”
Eric Garner’s mother Gwen Carr assured the city that her pursuit for justice is far from over. Her family are demanding that the investigation be looked at again; and that all the cops involved on the scene of her son’s death be questioned.
Carr just lost her husband Ben Carr who passed away on July 26, 2019, in Negril, Jamaica where he intended on walking his stepdaughter Ellisha down the aisle the following day. His unanticipated departure has weighed heavily on the hearts of family and friends.
They were married 22-years.
Her grief did not prevent her from raging against the situation.
Supporting her position, Justice Committee co-director Loyda Colón: said, “Firing Pantaleo is the only
reasonable decision O’Neill could have made, but let’s be clear: in spite of the fact that the whole world saw Pantaleo wrap his arm around Garner’s throat, Pantaelo’s termination only happened because of half a decade of citywide organizing and the unwavering leadership of Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother.
“If left to their own devices, Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill would have allowed Garner’s murder to fade from NYC’s collective memory with zero accountability. Look at the facts: in January 2015, in spite of IAB’s recommendation that Pantaleo be charged, O’Neill and the NYPD Department Advocate’s Office chose NOT to charge him. The CCRB, not the NYPD’s DAO, prosecuted Pantaleo.”
Noting that, “Pantaleo’s termination is a movement victory,” Colón went on to declare, “But this struggle is far from over. For the last five years, the disciplinary process for Sgt. Kizzy Adonis—the only other officer involved in Garner’s murder who has been charged—has been stalled. Officer Justin D’Amico, who declined to mention the use of force against Garner in official reports and falsely charged Garner with a felony after he was already dead, has not been charged. Lt. Christopher Bannon, who texted ‘not a big deal’ when he found out Garner might be dead, has not been charged. Officers Ramos and Furlani, who testified that they heard Garner say he couldn’t breathe and yet did nothing to stop the violence, as well as multiple other officers who either participated or allowed it to happen, have not been charged. This lack of accountability constitutes an ongoing injustice done to Mrs. Carr, her son, and her family.
“Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill must ensure ALL of these officers are fired from the NYPD. Unless they do this, they have no business speaking Eric Garner’s name without hanging their
heads in shame.”
Carmen Perez, campaign organizer for #ICantBreathe, felt the mayor’s comments rang hollow considering his and the NYPD’s current situation.
“While Eric Garner’s killer has finally been punished for his actions, albeit not in a court of law, the officers who assisted Pantaleo in aiding his attempted cover up have largely evaded justice,” stated Perez. “Today is a sad day, because the firing of a dishonest officer provides cover to the NYPD to continue resisting our continued calls for more accountability and transparency.
“We also have no doubt the mayor will now return to Iowa rather than implementing reforms in the city he was elected to serve,” concluded Perez.