Five years after the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill made a decision on Monday on the fate of police officer Daniel Pantaleo for using a fatal and illegal chokehold during an arrest for the sale of loose cigarettes.
Despite nationwide cries for Mayor Bill de Blasio to fire Pantaleo for Garner’s death, ultimately, the city and state charters leave that responsibility to O’Neill, who concluded that Pantaleo should be fired after a New York City police department administrative judge recommended the dismissal because of the violation of the chokehold ban.
“She found that during the struggle, Officer Pantaleo ‘had the opportunity to readjust his grip from a prohibited chokehold to a less-lethal alternative,’ but did not make use of that opportunity,” said O’Neill. “Instead, even once Mr. Garner was moved to his side on the ground ‘with his left arm behind his back and his right hand still open and extended, [Officer Pantaleo] kept his hands clasped and maintain the chokehold. Mr. Garner’s obvious distress is confirmed when he coughs and grimaces.'”
The bruising from the chokehold that led to an asthma attack and Garner’s death also violated the Penal Law threshold when it comes to physical injury of a suspect, according to O’Neill.
City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), a member of the Committee on Criminal Justice, thanked O’Neill for bringing justice to the family of Garner.
“With the family of Eric Garner in our minds and our hearts, we want to publicly acknowledge Commissioner O’Neill’s courageous decision to terminate Officer Pantaleo from the NYPD,” said Richards. “After FIVE years of judicial disappointments, the Commissioner’s decision will allow the Garner Family to heal, finally. After five years, his decision will encourage our community advocates, civic leaders, educators, clergy, concerned residents, and especially our young men and women, to believe that justice does exist, for everyone.”
While Richards believes that O’Neill’s actions were on the right side of history and was a “model of law enforcement leadership,” he acknowledged that not the decision would be unpopular for some.
President Patrick Lynch of the Police Benevolent Association blasted O’Neill for choosing “politics” and “self-interest” over standing up for the department and told police officers to “proceed with the utmost caution” when doing their jobs.
“He has chosen to cringe in fear of the anti-police extremists,” said Lynch. “The NYPD will remain rudderless and frozen, and Commissioner O’Neill will never be able to bring it back.”
State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), however, was happy with the result.
“New York finally has some justice with the decision to fire Daniel Pantaleo,” said Gianaris, who had previously called for the termination. “It was the right and responsible choice after the killing of Eric Garner. It is my hope New York does not experience another similar tragedy due to reckless abuse of power.”
City Council I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) found the termination five years too late.
“Failure to take prompt disciplinary action has allowed Pantaleo to spend the past five years living off the taxpayers’ dime; meanwhile, his employment has been an affront to Eric Garner’s family and black and brown communities,” said Miller. “While today’s firing is the lowest threshold of justice, Commissioner O’Neill’s decision will allow for confidence to be restored, and for the NYPD to continue to improve relationships with the communities they serve.”