Upon learning that Eric Garner was most likely dead after he was wrestled to the ground and put in a chokehold, NYPD commanders were unalarmed. “Not a big deal,” a police lieutenant, Christopher Bannon, texted an officer. “We were effecting a lawful arrest.”
The text messages were read aloud Thursday on the fourth day of the disciplinary hearing for Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is facing dismissal from the NYPD on charges of recklessly using a chokehold on Garner and intentionally restricting his breathing.
The infamous 2014 incident in Staten Island, New York stemmed from Pantaleo’s suspicion that Garner, then 43, was selling untaxed cigarettes.
Garner’s death was recorded by a bystander, and his final words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement and sparked protests nationwide.
“No big deal?” Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said to reporters outside the NYPD headquarters on Thursday after the hearing. “If one of his loved ones was on the ground dead and someone came up to him and said, ‘it’s no big deal,’ how would you feel about it?”
During the disciplinary hearing, Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, has argued that his client was a “scapegoat” and that Garner’s poor health had been his cause of death. But during testimony earlier this week medical examiner Dr. Floriana Persechino reiterated the findings from her 2014 report, which found the cause of death was “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” She added in her report that Garner’s asthma, obesity, and high blood pressure were “contributing conditions” to his death.
Back in 2014, a grand jury’s decision not to indict Pantaleo set off protests across New York City. The Justice Department launched a federal civil rights inquiry in December 2014, but the investigation has dragged on for years, and will come to a halt on July 17, the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death. Frustrated by the slow pace of the inquiry, the NYPD delivered an ultimatum to the DOJ last July, saying they should file charges by August 31 or they’d launch their own investigation into Pantaleo.
The NYPD subsequently filed departmental charges, which had been recommended by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an external watchdog agency,. The disciplinary hearing, which is expected to conclude next week, could lead to Pantaleo being fired or suspended from the NYPD. Proceedings are slated to resume next Tuesday.
Cover Image: Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, speaks during a news conference after leaving court in New York on Thursday, May 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)