A New York City police department administrative judge has recommended that a police officer should be fired over the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black man whose dying words — "I can't breathe" — became a national rallying cry against police brutality.
The judge's findings in the disciplinary case of Officer Daniel Pantaleo were provided to his lawyer and the city agency that acted as a prosecutor at his department trial last spring.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board chairman said the judge had recommended Pantaleo be dismissed. Pantaleo's lawyer will have about two weeks to submit responses. A final decision lies with the New York City police commissioner.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Public Information Phillip Walzak said the police commissioner James O'Neill is aware of the public statements Friday about the Pantaleo trial, but has not been provided the draft report consistent with the NYPD disciplinary process. The completed report, with comments from Pantaleo's attorney and the CCRB, will be delivered to O'Neill for a final determination this month, Walzak said.
Pantaleo has been suspended effective Friday, "as is the longstanding practice in these matters when the recommendation is termination," Walzak said.
"All of New York City understandably seeks closure to this difficult chapter in our city's history," the statement said.
Garner's death — after he refused to be handcuffed for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes — came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that gave impetus to the national Black Lives Matter movement. Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. When a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on state charges in December 2014, demonstrations flared in New York and several other cities.
Pantaleo faced a long-delayed departmental trial in May to determine whether he violated department rules. The Justice Department last month said it would not bring a civil rights case against him after a five-year investigation.
The administrative judge, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, had been tasked with deciding whether Pantaleo used a banned chokehold to take Eric Garner to the ground during a tense confrontation on a Staten Island street. Pantaleo's lawyers had argued he used an approved "seat belt" technique to subdue Garner, but a medical examiner ruled a chokehold set off a lethal sequence of events.
"Today's decision confirms what the Civilian Complaint Review Board always has maintained: Officer Daniel Pantaleo committed misconduct on July 17, 2014, and his actions caused the death of Eric Garner," said Fred Davie, chairman of the review board that served as the prosecutor.
Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, was scheduled to speak Friday afternoon. Members of Garner's family were expected to attend a rally with the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Garner's death has dogged Mayor Bill de Blasio since it happened in his first year in office.
His initial statements after the death were critical of the officers involved, and he talked publicly about having had to warn his own son, who is black, to be careful during any encounters with police. Then, as protests flared, a disturbed man angry about the Garner and Brown cases ambushed and killed two New York City police officers as they sat in their cruiser.
The head of the city's largest police union said the mayor had "blood on his hands" over the killings. Police officers turned their backs on the mayor at the officers' funerals.
De Blasio, now running for president, wound up infuriating police reform advocates, too, by allowing the department to wait for years to begin disciplinary proceedings against Pantaleo. The delay was due to the city's desire to avoid interfering in the ongoing federal civil rights investigation.
Chants of "Fire Pantaleo" interrupted de Blasio at Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate in Detroit.
Soon after the chant, de Blasio's Twitter account posted four tweets responding the protesters and saying Garner's death "fundamentally changed" New York City.
"To the protestors in the audience today: I heard you. I saw you. I thank you. This is what democracy looks like and no one said it was pretty," de Blasio's account tweeted.