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New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill has fired the officer who killed Eric Garner, a black man who died after being placed in a chokehold in Staten Island five years ago.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo had been on paid desk duty since the July 2014 incident and even received a pay bump over the years, according to the New York Daily News. He had also avoided criminal charges. But O’Neill’s decision followed the recent recommendation of a judge, who ruled that Pantaleo’s use of a chokehold when he arrested 43-year-old Garner was misconduct.
“I stand before you today confident that I have reached the correct decision,” O’Neill said at a news conference announcing his decision on Monday. “The unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own.”
On July 17, 2014, Pantaleo detained Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, and put him in a chokehold while several other officers restrained Garner. Garner’s final moments — and his final words, “I can’t breathe” — were captured in a viral video, which fueled the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement.
Months later, a grand jury in New York declined to bring charges against Pantaleo. Frustrated by the slow pace of the DOJ investigation, NYPD officials gave the feds an ultimatum in July 2018: Charge Pantaleo within the next month, or we’ll take matters into our own hands.
The DOJ investigation into Garner’s death recently wrapped up without finding that the officer had violated Garner's civil rights. And more details, including that a police lieutenant called Garner’s death “not a big deal” in a text message to an officer at the scene, were also revealed during a 10-day hearing in May.
"None of us can take back our decisions, most especially when they lead to the death of another human being," O’Neill added Monday. "An officer's choices and actions, even made under extreme pressure, matter.
The incident has left a dark cloud hanging over the city for five years. Garner’s family members accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of deflecting agency and avoiding taking a stance on whether Pantaleo should have been removed from the force. The issue even followed De Blasio, who’s running for president, out of New York and onto the campaign trail.
Chants of “Fire Pantaleo” broke out at the most recent round of Democratic debates, in Detroit, as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker made his opening statement. De Blasio and former Vice President Joe Biden also fielded questions during the debate about their handling of the case.
Patrick Lynch, leader of the Police Benevolent Association leader, the NYPD’s union, blasted O’Neill’s decision in a statement.
“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,” Lynch said. “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. The NYPD will remain rudderless and frozen.”
Cover: New York City students and youth activists participate in a news conference and rally to commemorate the lives of Eric Garner and Delrawn Small, both of whom were killed by police in different incidents, on August 08, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)