Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City police officer seen on video using a chokehold during Eric Garner’s deadly arrest five years ago, was fired by the department, the police commissioner said Monday.
Earlier this month, an administrative judge recommended that Pantaleo be terminated over the 2014 confrontation.
Pantaleo, who has been with the NYPD since 2006, was suspended as soon as that departmental verdict was reached, in keeping with long-standing practice when there is a recommendation for firing. The 13-year veteran had been on desk duty as his case made its way through legal and administrative circles.
Commissioner James O’Neill said Pantaleo was properly making an arrest, up to the point where he had Garner on the ground but still had a forearm on the man’s throat.
“Had I been in officer Pantaleo’s situation I may have similar mistakes,” O’Neill said. “I would have wished I had released my grip before it became a chokehold.”
New York City’s top policeman also heaped blame on Garner himself, saying he was wrong to have resisted arrest.
“Every time I watch that video I say to myself … ‘to Mr. Garner, don’t do it. Comply. Officer Pantaleo, don’t do it,'” the commissioner said.
O’Neill admitted that if he were still an officer in uniform — as he’d been for 34 years before taking charge of America’s biggest municipal police force — he too would be upset with this decision.
“I’ve been a cop a long time and if I was still a cop, I’d probably be mad. ‘You’re not looking out for us,’ but I am,” O’Neill said.
“It’s my responsibility as police commissioner to look out for the city and certainly to look out for New York City police officers. They took this job to make a difference. You all know the city has been transformed — had a lot of help, but it’s the cops out there right now and the thousands that have come before who that continue to make this city safe.”
Emerald Snipes Garner, one of Eric Garner’s daughter, thanked the family’s supporters and Commissioner O’Neill for his decision on Monday.
Garner’s loved ones and NAN’s founder, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is also an MSNBC host, said they’ll push lawmakers to make the chokehold illegal, and not just a violation of any individual department’s internal policy.
“We can’t talk about what happened in the past. We can only talk what we’re going to do” now, Emerald Snipes Garner, said.
And while O’Neill said he found fault in Garner’s actions, Emerald Snipes Garner said she had a different take: “When I watch the video, I see my father being killed.”
However, the New York Civil Liberties Union fell well short of praising O’Neill’s ruling.
“The NYPD just announced that they have fired Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold five years ago,” according to a statement by group.
“It may be tempting to call this justice, but it’s not. We cannot lower our standards just because the NYPD has kept the bar so low.”
There are still civil avenues for Pantaleo to get his job back. And if the termination stands, Pantaleo would still be entitled to all pension benefits he had accrued through Monday, according to O’Neill.
Patrick J. Lynch, president of the city’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, warned O’Neill that Pantaleo’s termination would be a morale blow to his members.
Minutes after the police commissioner announced his ruling on Monday, Lynch said O’Neill has permanently lost the confidence of officers on the beat.
“The NYPD will remain rudderless and frozen and Commissioner O’Neill will never be able to bring it back,” Lynch said in a prepared statement.
“Now it is time for every police officer in this city to make their own choice. We are urging all New York City police officer to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job. We will uphold our oath, but we cannot and will not do so by needlessly jeopardizing our careers or personal safety.”