One part of the long saga of Eric Garner’s death wrapped up on Tuesday, with the U.S. Justice Department declining to pursue civil rights charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
In 2014, Pantaleo took Garner to the ground and held him there while Garner gasped, “I can’t breathe.” The time limit to charge him with federal civil rights violations wrapped up this week. Federal prosecutors didn’t find enough evidence to prove a willful violation by Pantaleo, which appears to have been the problem for DOJ officials over two presidential administrations. Garner’s death fueled nationwide protests and a Black Lives Matter movement, but not criminal charges for Pantaleo. A Staten Island grand jury also declined to indict in 2014.
What happens next?
An NYPD departmental proceeding for Pantaleo wrapped up last month. That proceeding was overseen by Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, who makes a recommendation to Police Commissioner James O’Neill. Depending on the recommendation, O’Neill decides punishment, if any, for Pantaleo, including dismissal.
What’s taking so long?
The departmental proceeding only started this year, as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration had argued that DOJ officials asked the city to wait for the federal probe.
In a statement blasted out after the DOJ announcement Tuesday, de Blasio said the city would no longer wait this long after the death of an unarmed civilian involving a police officer. The city will begin its disciplinary process “immediately.”
But Garner’s family members and supporters have questioned why the city didn’t start immediately or at least quickly for Garner in the first place. The city had moved faster in a similar police choking case in 1994, the death of Anthony Baez in the Bronx.
The world will find out what O’Neill decides to do … or not. A section of state civil rights law given to wide interpretation could prevent the release of disciplinary records like this.
That likely won’t happen in such a high-profile case, but it’s a sign of how much latitude the police department has to protect its own.
What has been the reaction?
Advocates and Garner family members gathered at City Hall on Tuesday and promised protests this week, including at Foley Square Wednesday afternoon.
They directed their pleas to different sides of the administration.
“James O’Neill, I have some faith in you,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “Provide some justice for the family.”
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, spoke to press about her son’s death as she has done many times over the last half decade. She said the decision by the DOJ not to move forward indicated that “our lives don’t matter.”
She asked de Blasio to fire Pantaleo and other officers present at Garner’s death:
“Show yourself as mayor, the mayor you were elected to be.”