The New York Police Department has suspended Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who was accused of placing Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold in 2014, following the recommendation by an administrative judge to fire the officer, according to the department. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill will now make the final decision about Pantaleo’s position in the department.
Pantaleo escaped the last chance prosecutors had at pressing criminal charges against him in July, after the Department of Justice ended its civil rights investigation without charges, just a day before the statute of limitations expired. Pantaleo had already dodged state criminal charges in 2014. After the incident, he remained on desk duty at the NYPD, collecting a regular salary and pension benefits. The department has not indicated if it plans to follow the judge’s recommendation, but CNN reports that one senior law enforcement official says O’Neill plans to follow the recommendation.
“Officer Pantaleo has been suspended, effective today, as is the longstanding practice in these matters when the recommendation is termination,” a NYPD statement said. “All of New York City understandably seeks closure to this difficult chapter in our City’s history. Premature statements or judgments before the process is complete however cannot and will not be made.”
The deadly encounter five years ago sparked a wave of protests, with Garner’s last words of “I can’t breathe” serving as a rallying cry against police violence toward unarmed black men. Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, had been standing on a Staten Island sidewalk when he was approached by police. The officers, who accused him of selling loose cigarettes, attempted to handcuff him, and when he refused, Pantaleo appeared to put Garner in a chokehold. Other officers pushed Garner to the ground, and Garner could be heard in the video telling the officers that he couldn’t breathe. A medical examiner testified later that the pressure from the restraint triggered a fatal asthma attack.
While criminal charges never materialized, an internal department investigation found Pantaleo had acted dangerously. The administrative judge, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, concluded that Pantaleo had used a chokehold, not the “seat belt” technique Pantaleo’s lawyers had argued he used, and that he had violated several department policies. Pantaleo’s lawyers will now have two weeks to submit responses to O’Neill before the commissioner makes a final decision, according to the Associated Press.
Garner’s family, who have spent years pushing for Pantaleo to be held accountable for the death, called on the police department to fire the officer. “We’ve waited five years,” Emerald Garner, Eric Garner’s daughter, said in a press conference Friday in reaction to the news. “Commissioner O’Neill, fire Pantaleo.”