The disciplinary hearing for New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo wrapped up this week. Pantaleo is the officer who killed Eric Garner in on July 17, 2014 by putting him in a chokehold and refusing to let go even as Garner repeatedly gasped “I can’t breathe.” Pantaleo never faced criminal prosecution, after a grand jury decided not to indict him yet the city paid $5.9 million to settle a lawsuit with the family. He has remained on desk duty on the police force but could lose his job and pension if found guilty of violating NYPD procedures.
A presiding judge will send a recommendation about Pantaleo’s fate to Police Commissioner James O’Neill in the coming weeks. A police supervisor testified that internal affairs investigators who reviewed Eric Garner’s death determined that the officer who wrestled him to the ground in 2014 used a forbidden chokehold on him. Another internal affairs investigator, Inspector Barton, who oversaw the internal review, said he recommended disciplinary charges against Officer Pantaleo in January 2015, after a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges.
Garner died after officers held him down and handcuffed him on the pavement near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The police had stopped him because they thought he was selling untaxed cigarettes, or “loosies.” Captured on bystander video, video captured Officer Pantaleo speaking into his radio before he and his partner moved in to make an arrest. Officer Pantaleo grabbed Mr. Garner, who weighed 395 pounds, from behind and the two stumbled into a plate-glass window before falling to the ground, where Mr. Garner begged for air. While 4 police officers restrained him, Garner repeated “I can’t breathe” eleven times while lying face down on the sidewalk. After Garner lost consciousness, officers turned him onto his side to ease his breathing.
Officer Pantaleo wrapped his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck and clasped his hands like a “vise grip,” said the prosecutor, Jonathan Fogel, of the review board. The Police Department has “explicitly, unequivocally and absolutely” banned the maneuver, and it triggered “a lethal cascade,” Mr. Fogel said.
The medical examiner ruled Mr. Garner’s death a homicide caused by the compression of his neck from a “choke hold” and the compression of his chest while being forced to the ground in a prone position. Garner’s death was one of several across the country that set off protests and led to a national reckoning over how the police treat people in poor and minority neighborhoods. Mr. Garner’s last words — “I can’t breathe” — became a rallying cry for people protesting police brutality.
Officer Pantaleo faces charges of reckless use of a chokehold and intentional restriction of breathing. His lawyer, Stuart London, says that Officer Pantaleo did not use a chokehold, but a different technique that is taught to officers in training and is known as a seatbelt. London has argued that Mr. Garner, who was overweight and severely asthmatic, died because of poor health.