NYPD cop Daniel Panatelo has been fired for causing the chokehold death of Eric Garner, Police Commissioner James O’Neill announced Monday.
O’Neill’s widely expected decision to fire the embattled cop endorsed the recommendation of a deputy commissioner who presided over Pantaleo’s departmental trial earlier this year.
It also came after Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed that Garner’s family was “going to get justice … in the next 30 days” during a Democratic presidential primary debate on July 31.
Garner’s July 17, 2014, death became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement after cellphone video captured him repeatedly yelling “I can’t breathe!” while being arrested on suspicion of illegally selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island.
O’Neill called the incident an “irreversible tragedy” and faulted both men for their actions, saying that Garner shouldn’t have resisted arrest and that Pantaleo should have “re-adjusted his grip” after forcing Garner to the sidewalk.
He also said that “If I was still a cop, I’d probably be mad at me,” but noted that his job required him to “think about the rules and regs of the NYPD” and apply them as written.
O’Neill said he made the “very difficult decision” in the past several days, but added, “I’ve been thinking about this since I was sworn in as police commissioner” in 2016.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado found Pantaleo, 33, guilty of misconduct for recklessly applying a chokehold banned by the department but acquitted the cop on allegations of intentionally strangling Garner, 43.
A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in December 2014 and US Attorney General William Barr in July opted against filing civil-rights charges on grounds of “insufficient evidence” following a nearly five-year investigation launched by predecessor AG Eric Holder.
Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch blasted O’Neill’s decision, and accused him of choosing “to cringe in fear of the anti-police extremists, rather than standing up for New Yorkers who want a functioning police department, with cops who are empowered to protect them and their families.”
“With this decision, Commissioner O’Neill has opened the door for politicians to dictate the outcome of every single NYPD disciplinary proceeding, without any regard for the facts of the case or police officers’ due process rights,” 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 head of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which prosecuted the case against Pantaleo, said the evidence left O’Neill “no option but to dismiss Pantaleo,” providing closure to Garner’s family, the city and “a nation that long has had watchful eyes upon this case.”
“Make no mistake: This process took entirely too long. And the tragic reality is that neither a verdict from a judge nor a decision by a police commissioner can reverse what happened on July 17, 2014,” CCRB Chairman Fred Davie said.
“Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s termination from the New York City Police Department does not make the death of Eric Garner any less harrowing. But it is heartening to know that some element of justice has been served.”
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