In Gwen Carr’s search for closure, a case remains open. The mother of Eric Garner spent last Wednesday morning attending oral arguments for a legal battle over redacted information in the police records relevant to her son’s 2014 death at the hands of ex-NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. 

“The DOJ failed us, everyone failed us—that’s why I’m still out here today,” said Carr after the arguments. “One commissioner did fire Pantaleo, that was a step in the right direction. But we must go further. We have to get those other officers fired.” 

Pantaleo was fired in 2019 by then-Police Commissioner James O’Neill under the recommendation of Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado. According to Danny Kim of the Justice Committee, no one else lost their job over Garner’s death. Next to Carr, allies held signs demanding the firings of officer Justin D’Amico and NYPD Lt. Christopher Bannon.

The lawsuit stems from a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request filed by Carr, the Justice Committee and Communities United for Police Reform in August 2019. They sought public access to the police records to identify those culpable in Garner’s death and subsequent investigations. But when the request was met, the NYPD’s response was full of redactions and omissions. The police department argues the redactions are to protect the privacy of officers and witnesses.

“Today was an interim victory in this struggle to get every scrap of paper from the police department and from the CCRB,” said Carr’s lawyer Gideon Oliver. “And every other record that relates to the police department’s killing of Eric Garner and related investigations and discipline. We’ve been litigating these Freedom of Information Law requests for years now.

“And although we don’t yet have a final decision from the court, what happens today is a positive step toward shaking loose for records on top of the 10s of 1000s of pages of records that we’ve already managed to get from the police department and from the CCRB.”

“The NYPD has been fully transparent in its response to this FOIL request in accordance with the law,” said a New York City Law Department spokesman in a statement. “It has disclosed over 36,000 pages of records and 340 videos and audiotapes. We are reviewing the judge’s interim order and will respond accordingly.”

This isn’t the first time Carr encountered bureaucratic roadblocks when requesting public records on Garner’s death. Civil Rights Law 50-a initially concealed personal records of police, firefighters and correctional officers during such requests. But Panteleo’s history of allegations were leaked by a whistleblower in 2017 and the law was ultimately repealed in 2020 by Andrew Cuomo with the help of Carr’s co-petitioner, Communities United for Police Reform.

This past July marked the eighth anniversary of Garner’s death in Staten Island. It remains one of the most high-profile, national instances of police brutality in recent memory. Back in 2014, a viral video of the killing showed Pantaleo putting Garner in a banned chokehold while the 42-year-old man repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” before dying. 

On Wednesday, Judge Erika Edwards kicked the can down the road, with the next court date on Nov. 17. Carr hopes the day will serve as one step closer to peace.

“It’s been eight long years, although it seems like yesterday to me because I’m still fighting—because I’m trying to get clarity and closure on my son’s murder,” she said. “And we want all the cops fired [that were] involved in my son’s death.” 
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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