Law & the Courts

NYPD Fires Officer Who Used Choke Hold on Eric Garner

New York Police Department Commissioner James P. O’Neill at a news conference at Police headquarter in New York City, August 19, 2019. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

The officer who placed Eric Garner in a fatal choke hold during a street arrest in 2014 has been fired, NYPD commissioner James O’Neill announced Monday.

The announcement comes two weeks after a police judge ruled that the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, 34, should be terminated over his use of force to subdue Garner. Pantaleo employed the prohibited choke-hold maneuver while attempting to arrest Garner for the unlicensed sale of loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner.

O’Neill acknowledged during a Monday press conference that Pantaleo was placed in a difficult situation during the encounter with Garner, but ultimately concluded that he “can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”

“I can tell you that had I been in Officer Pantaleo’s situation, I may have made similar mistakes,” said O’Neill, who served as a uniformed NYPD officer for more than three decades. “But none of us can take back our decisions, particularly when they result in the death of another human being.”

Garner’s final plea of “I can’t breathe” was captured in a viral video that sparked a national backlash against racial bias in policing. The case resulted in local and federal civil-rights investigations, both of which cleared Pantaleo and his fellow officers of criminal wrongdoing. The 43-year-old Garner was a married father of six, and his family ultimately received a $5.9 million settlement from the city.

Summing up the case, O’Neill concluded there were “no victors” in that both police officers and civilians will suffer from the fallout.

“If I was a police officer I probably would not be happy,” O’Neill said. “But someone calls for help, dials 911, somebody flags them down, they are not going to think about this decision.”

Patrick Lynch, who leads the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of the City of New York, the largest union representing NYPD officers, predicted earlier this month that it would “paralyze the NYPD for years to come” if O’Neill complied with the judge’s recommendation to fire Pantaleo.

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