NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The family of Eric Garner on Tuesday discussed a $5.9 million settlement it reached with the city days before the one-year anniversary of his death.
Tuesday’s news conference included Garner’s family and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who called on New Yorkers to attend a Saturday rally in Cadman Plaza to honor Garner and other victims of police misconduct.
“Money is not justice,” Sharpton said. “Money is a recognition of the loss of the family. But it does not deal with the criminal and other wrongs done to this family and other families.”
“This is not about money. The headlines are ‘the family wanted more money.’ The family wants justice. There’s no argument about money. The argument is about justice, and how you put value on the lives of the family members that have to now survive without Eric alive, his wife, his children,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton and the Garner family members emphasized that Sharpton’s National Action Network wasn’t compensated for their involvement in Garner’s case.
“Let everyone know that NAN did not ask for anything, did not insinuate, did not imply. I do not owe them anything and there will not be a portion given to them,” Garner’s widow Esau said. “[NAN] has done nothing but support us in every way. And we would like to also get the city to continue to support us as we rally and march to continue for justice for my husband, to try to get the prosecutor to prosecute the officers. They deserve to be prosecuted. They treated my husband like an animal, and I think that they give animals more respect than they give humans.”
“This settlement that we get, people walking up and down the street are saying ‘congratulations.’ Don’t congratulate us. This is not a victory,” Garner’s mother Gwen Carr said. “The victory will come when we get justice. Then we want to have a victory party. But now, we still need you all to stand with us as we go forward.”
“Justice is when somebody is held accountable for what they do,” Garner’s daughter Emerald said. “If you do a crime, you do the time. That’s how it goes, and it’s no excuse.”
The settlement was announced Monday. Garner’s family in October filed a notice of claim, the first step in filing a lawsuit against the city, asking for $75 million.
Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said the settlement shows a lack of fiscal responsibility by the city and is purely political.
“I just think that it’s sending the wrong message that we have an individual with a criminal background who’s resisting arrest, and we’re now sending a message to criminals that it’s OK to resist arrest and if something bad happens, you’ll get $5 million or more,” he told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb.
Mullins added that the agreement is out of step with previous settlements.
“Cases are generally evaluated based on an individual’s income, their contribution to society and their future earning potential,” he said. “And if we look at Eric Garner’s background and his earning potential, he’s got a history of 30 arrests. How do we calculate $5 million into that?”
Seven Garner family members put their signatures on papers and will share the settlement money.
Meanwhile late Tuesday, New York’s religious political leaders gathered for an interfaith prayer service to mark the upcoming one-year anniversary of Garner’s death.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Mayor Bill de Blasio were among those who made remarks at the Mount Sinai United Christian Church on Staten Island.
The service featured a candle-lighting ceremony as a symbol of unity.
“Could our yearlong trial be an opening for God to transform us from death to life; despair to hope?” Dolan said.
Garner, who was 43, was stopped last July 17 outside a Staten Island convenience store because police officers believed he was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. A video shot by an onlooker shows Garner telling the officers to leave him alone and refusing to be handcuffed.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed his arm around Garner’s neck to take him down. Garner, who had asthma, is heard gasping “I can’t breathe!” 11 times before losing consciousness. He was pronounced dead later at a hospital.
The city medical examiner found the apparent police chokehold contributed to Garner’s death. But a grand jury declined to indict the officer in the death. A federal probe is ongoing.
Chokeholds are banned by NYPD policy. Pantaleo says he used a legal takedown maneuver known as a “seatbelt,” not a chokehold.
Garner’s death sparked demonstrations and became a flashpoint in a national debate about relations between police and minority communities.
While the city has a legal department that fields lawsuits, the comptroller’s office also can settle claims. Comptroller Scott Stringer has made a point of doing that in civil rights cases, saying that resolving them quickly saves the city money on legal fees.
“I hope it gives closure for the Garner family,” Stringer said. “I think it’s important that they have a sense of financial security. I think for the city, as I mentioned, I think we have a lot of work to do to bring police and community together.”
Stringer also said he believes the settlement is fair, CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported.
“We have acted professionally, exercised good judgement and that’s what the people of the city want,” he said.
And experts said in certain cases, like with the video in the Garner case, a settlement is prudent.
“Video evidence clear for the world to see; what would be the point of having an extended litigation and witnesses and depositions,” said civil rights attorney Andrew Celli.
The city did not admit any liability in the settlement.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said that hopefully Garner’s family “can find some peace and finality” from the settlement. He was scheduled to speak Tuesday at a church memorial service in Garner’s honor.
A lawyer for the Garner family said they’ve also reached a settlement with the Richmond University Medical Center whose EMTs responded to the scene but allegedly did little or nothing to save Garner’s life, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
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