New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill revealed his decision in a news conference Monday. He said the decision was immediate and the other officer involved in the Garner case will face a disciplinary trial later this year.
“None of us can take back our decisions,” O’Neill said, “especially when they lead to the death of another human being.”
The New York Times reported that the judge in the departmental trial stated in her opinion that Pantaleo was untruthful and self-serving during questioning.
The arrest on Staten Island was caught on camera. Garner was accused of illegally selling loose cigarettes. He was heard on the video saying “I can’t breathe.”
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The medical examiner had testified at the departmental trial that the chokehold is what set off an asthma attack and a fatal heart attack.
“No one believes that Officer Pantaleo got out of bed on July 17, 2014, thinking he would make choices and take actions during an otherwise routine arrest that would lead to another person’s death,” said O’Neill. “But an officer’s choices and actions, even made under extreme pressure, matter.
“It is unlikely that Mr. Garner thought he was in such poor health that a brief struggle with the police would cause his death,” he said. “He should’ve decided against resisting arrest. But a man with a family lost his life and that is an irreversible tragedy.
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“A hard-working police officer, a man with a family who took this job to do good, to make a difference in his home community, has now lost his chosen career,” O’Neill said. “And that is a different kind of tragedy. In this case, the unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own. Therefore I agree with the deputy commissioner of the trial’s legal findings and recommendations. It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton said Garner’s family was “relieved but not celebratory.”
“Pantaleo will go home a terminated man, but this family had to go to a funeral,” Sharpton said at a news conference.
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Garner’s daughter, Emerald Snipes Garner, thanked O’Neill “for doing the right thing.” She said she is urging lawmakers to make it a state and federal crime – not just an administrative violation – for any police officer to use a chokehold.
“I should not be here standing with my brother, fatherless,” she said. “He’s fired, but the fight is not over.”
De Blasio never said whether he believed Pantaleo should lose his job but promised “justice” to the slain man’s family.
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The commissioner’s decision comes two weeks after an NYPD administrative judge recommended Pantaleo be fired for using what O’Neill acknowledged was a banned chokehold during Garner’s arrest. Garner, 43, later died.
The police union has said Pantaleo should keep his job because he did nothing wrong, and that firing him would have a chilling effect on how other officers do their jobs.
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“Police Commissioner O’Neill has made his choice: he has chosen politics and his own self-interest over the police officers he claims to lead. 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, 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. 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, and Commissioner O’Neill will never be able to bring it back. Now it is time for every police officer in this city to make their own choice. We are urging all New York City police officers to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job. We will uphold our oath, but we cannot and will not do so by needlessly jeopardizing our careers or personal safety.”
The National Fraternal Order of Police president also released a statement.
National FOP President @pyoes: “Officer Pantaleo acted as he was trained to do while under the direct supervision of a sergeant. It didn’t matter; he was fired for doing his job and, in failing to protect the integrity of the NYPD, Commissioner O’Neill didn’t do his.” pic.twitter.com/v6G3wpM596
— National FOP (@GLFOP) August 19, 2019
Pantaleo was suspended after the NYPD judge’s decision. He had been placed on desk duty until O’Neill’s decision.
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“I’ve been a cop a long time,” O’Neill said. “If I was still a cop, I’d probably be mad at me, I would, for not looking out for us. But I am. It’s my responsibility as police commissioner to look out for the city and certainly to look out for the New York City police officers. They took this job to make a difference, and you all know the city has been transformed. Had a lot of help, but it’s the cops out there right now and the thousands that have come before us that continue to make this city safe.
Asked whether Mayor Bill de Blasio forced his hand, O’Neill said the dismissal was his choice. “This is the decision that the police commissioner makes,” he said, calling Garner’s death an “irreversible tragedy” that “must have a consequence.”
“Some will be angry, and I have a great executive staff – these police officers do a terrific job each and every day – and we’ll have to work through this,” O’Neill said. “It’s a resilient organization.”
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“Mister Pantaleo, you might have lost a job, but I lost a son,” said Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner.
In 2014, a grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo. Last month, the U.S. Justice Department refused to bring federal civil rights charges against him.
When a state grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict Pantaelo in December of that year, protesters poured into the streets by the thousands, venting the frustration that criminal charges against officers using deadly force remained rare, even with video evidence.
Then, a few days before Christmas, a man upset about the cases of Garner and 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, fatally shot two New York City police officers as they sat in their cruiser in Brooklyn.
Those killings, in turn, gave fire to the Blue Lives Matter counter-movement, with police union officials arguing that the heated rhetoric against officers was making them unsafe. Some officers began turning their backs on de Blasio at funerals.
Federal authorities kept a civil rights investigation open for five years before announcing last month they would not bring charges.
City officials had long insisted that they could not take action until criminal investigations were complete.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)