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Daniel Pantaleo, NYPD officer in Eric Garner's death, fired by Commissioner O'Neill

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD PBA officials and members of Eric Garner's family, on Monday all had strong reactions to the firing of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was involved in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner. (Credit: Newsday / Matthew Chayes; Todd Maisel, Marcus Santos)

Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who used a banned chokehold on Eric Garner, contributing to his death in 2014, has been fired.

Police Commissioner James O’Neill announced his decision Monday afternoon at police headquarters at 1 Police Plaza in lower Manhattan.

“In this case, the unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own,” O'Neill said. “Therefore, I agree with the deputy commissioner of trials’ legal findings and recommendation. It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer. In carrying out the court’s verdict in this case, I take no pleasure. I know that many will disagree with this decision. That is their right.”

Pantaleo’s termination is the final chapter of a case that prompted one of the city’s most contentious debates. Videos of Garner’s death on Staten Island on July 17, 2014, showed Pantaleo putting his arm around Garner’s neck and pulling him to the ground after he resisted an arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. Chokeholds are prohibited by the NYPD.

Before he fell unconscious, Garner cried out 11 times “I can’t breathe” — which became a rallying cry for police reforms across the nation.

Emerald Garner, Eric Garner’s daughter, praised O’Neill for taking action at a news conference Monday afternoon.

“You finally made a decision that should have made five years ago,” she said. “I thank everyone who has been out on the front line, everyone who has been screaming ‘fire Pantaleo,’ because now he’s fired. I thank you for doing the right thing.”

O’Neill said the department conducted a fair and impartial trial and that it was a difficult decision to fire Pantaleo. “If I was a cop right now, I’d probably be mad at me,” he said, reflecting on his own career as a police officer before becoming the top cop in the city.

After the announcement, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city has “finally seen justice done.”

“We must devote ourselves to this simple goal — that no person, no family, no community, should ever go through the agony that we’ve all experienced here over these last years. It should never happen again in this city or this country … let this be the last tragedy,” he said at a City Hall news conference. 

But Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch blasted O’Neill’s decision, saying 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,” Lynch said. “The NYPD will remain rudderless and frozen, and Commissioner O’Neill will never be able to bring it back.”

Lynch also said the PBA was "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" and sent a letter to members instructing them to "await the patrol supervisor's arrival before attempting to effect an arrest, except when immediate action is necessary to protect life and personal safety."

De Blasio said Lynch's instructions amounted to a call for a work slowdown.

"The people of this city will not address any work slowdowns by any public servants," the mayor said. "I believe fundamentally … that the men and women of the police department will do their job, and if the union keeps trying to get people not to do their job, the public will be the ones to address that issue very forcefully."

Judge Rosemarie Maldonado, a deputy police commissioner who presided over Pantaleo’s departmental trial, recommended that Pantaleo be fired earlier this month.

Maldonado’s 46-page opinion found that Pantaleo’s explanation during a 2014 interview with the police department’s internal investigators that he did not use a chokehold on Garner was “implausible and self-serving,” according to a report in The New York Times. She concluded that he was “untruthful,” the report said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who is a family adviser, said the decision to fire Pantaleo is just the beginning.

“We will be going to the state of New York to ask that they begin to make it illegal by law, the use of the chokehold,” he said at the news conference with Emerald Garner. “This was a New York policy, New York City Police Department policy. It ought to be a state law and a federal law that chokeholds by police is punishable with a crime. Not just termination.”

In mid-July, just a day before the five-year anniversary of Garner’s death, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said federal prosecutors decided not to bring civil rights charges against Pantaleo. They concluded Pantaleo used legal maneuvers to try to control a resisting Garner and only used an NYPD- banned “chokehold” accidentally for seven seconds, making it impossible to prove he acted willfully as the federal law requires.

Although a city medical examiner found that Garner’s death was a homicide due to a chokehold and chest compression, Donoghue said other experts cited factors including Garner’s underlying medical conditions, such as asthma. Donoghue also said the five-year statute of limitations on civil rights violations where a law enforcement officer is accused of committing serious bodily injury had expired. 

Pantaleo has worked for the past five years in his Staten Island precinct while the investigations worked themselves through the justice system.

With Matthew Chayes, Maya Rajamani and Ivan Pereira


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