(CBS) – New York City’s police commissioner has fired a police officer involved in the 2014 death of an unarmed black man. 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 Eric Garner. Garner’s dying words of “I can’t breathe” became a flash point in a national debate over race and police use of force.
Emerald Snipes Garner said Monday 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.”
Garner said her family wants to see action taken against the other officers who were present when Pantaleo tried to arrest her father. And she said she wants to see 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. 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.”
A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo. Federal authorities announced last month they would not bring civil rights charges.
New York City’s mayor had declined to say whether he believed Pantaleo should lose his job but had been promising “justice” to the slain man’s family. Speaking Monday, Bill de Blasio said, “justice has been done.” He blasted the U.S. Department of Justice for being “absent and unwilling to act,” but said the NYPD disciplinary trial was an impartial and fair process.
“Today will not bring Eric Garner back, but I hope it brings some small measure of peace and closure to the Garner family,” de Blasio said.
Questions about the handling of the case have dogged de Blasio during his run for president, with some protesters at the recent debate in Detroit chanting, “Fire Pantaleo.”
In a statement, New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said O’Neill “has chosen politics and his own self-interest over the police officers he claims to lead.”
Lynch urged police officers to “proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job.”
“Now it is time for every police officer in this city to make their own choice,” he said in a statement. “We will uphold our oath, but we cannot and will not do so by needlessly jeopardizing our careers or personal safety.”
Speaking Monday, Lynch called for a no-confidence vote in the mayor and the police commissioner.
O’Neill said he arrived at his conclusion “unaffected by public opinion demanding one outcome over another.” He cited his own experience as a police officer, noting the difficult job officers face, and said Garner was clearly resisting arrest. But he said Maldonado found that Pantaleo’s training should have made his well aware of the dangers chokeholds face, and that Pantaleo could have chosen a less-lethal alternative to control Garner, but did not.
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.
At a recent administrative trial at New York Police Department headquarters, Pantaleo’s lawyers argued he used an approved “seat belt” technique to subdue Garner, who refused to be handcuffed after officers accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes.
In a bystander’s video, it appeared that Pantaleo initially tried to use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, who was much larger at 6-foot-2 and about 400 pounds, but ended up wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck for about seven seconds as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to the sidewalk.
The footage showed Garner, who was 43 at the time, crying out, “I can’t breathe,” at least 11 times before he fell unconscious. The medical examiner’s office said a chokehold contributed to Garner’s death.