NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill fired the police officer who killed Eric Garner by using an illegal chokehold during an arrest for an alleged nonviolent crime more than five years ago in Staten Island. The announcement was made on live TV Monday afternoon. Daniel Pantaleo was fired effective immediately.
O’Neill said Pantaleo “consciously disregarded” the prohibited chokehold but persisted regardless. However, O’Neill admitted, “The unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own.” The commissioner said he was “confident” he had made the right decision, even though he called it a “difficult” one. O’Neill, a former uniformed officer, said had he been in Pantaleo’s position, he may have made “similar mistakes” but would have wished he had “released” his grip.
“An officer’s choices … matter,” O’Neill said before saying that Garner should not have resisted arrest.
The decision came after a Staten Island grand jury and the Department of Justice failed to bring any criminal charges against Pantaleo, who was expected to sue to get his job back.
O’Neill’s decision came more than two months after the conclusion of an NYPD administrative trial to decide the professional fate of Pantaleo, who has remained gainfully employed by the department since a video showed him using a banned chokehold on Garner, who was supposedly suspected of the nonviolent crime of selling loose and untaxed cigarettes in public. The status of Pantaleo’s NYPD pension was unclear after O’Neill’s announcement.
When asked if he thought justice was delivered, O’Neill said the process was “fair and impartial” while describing it as a “tragedy for the Garner family.”
Judge Rosemarie Maldonado recommended earlier this month that O’Neill should fire Pantaleo. On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Maldonado said Pantaleo’s version of Garner’s death was “untruthful” and “disingenuous” during the disgraced cop’s accounts to investigators. She also said the other officers who testified were “unhelpful or unreliable.”
O’Neill said he “agreed with the content” of Maldonado’s recommendation.
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the firing was well overdue.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has apparently been too busy running for president to attend to matters that he was elected to oversee, vowed on July 31 that Garner’s family would have justice within “30 days.” At that point, of course, justice for Garner and his family had already been inexplicably deferred for more than five years as New York City officials exchanged blame while Pantaleo continued earning his six-figure salary behind the safety of desk duty.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has slammed de Blasio for the way the mayor has [mis]managed the high-profile police death of Garner, who was unarmed and repeatedly told cops that he couldn’t breathe before he died. However, some felt that Cuomo was complicit, as well, especially after the governor dodged the question of whether he thought Pantaleo should be fired.
Garner was approached by undercover NYPD officers on July 17, 2014, for the alleged offense of selling untaxed loose cigarettes. When officers failed at handcuffing him for the nonviolent misdemeanor, Pantaleo was caught on video with his arms wrapped tightly around Garner’s neck from behind. The chokehold ultimately killed Garner. The entire deadly episode was captured on cellphone video and filmed by a bystander. Garner’s final words — “I can’t breathe” — became a rallying call for social justice advocates who have maintained that his death was a murder.