Eric Garner death: NYPD officer's departmental trial wraps up

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, June 6, 2019

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The departmental hearing against the NYPD officer involved in Eric Garner's death wrapped up Thursday, but it's a mystery when the presiding judge will give a recommendation on the future of Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

On the seventh day of proceedings inside NYPD's headquarters, attorneys for Pantaleo and the Civil Complaint Review Board (CCRB) summarized their cases for Deputy Commissioner Rosemarie Maldonado.

"CCRB recommends a penalty of termination without his pension," attorney Suzanne O'Hare said during her closing arguments. "Officer Pantaleo forfeitured his right and privilege to be a police officer in the city of New York."

Pantaleo, 33, is accused of recklessly utilizing a banned chokehold to subdue Garner during an arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. He declined to testify on his own behalf despite a June 2018 ruling that his testimony couldn't be used against him in a federal proceedings, O'Hare said.

Federal prosecutors have not decided whether to charge or indict Pantaleo, and the deadline is July 17 -- the five-year anniversary of Garner's death. Maldonado will determine whether the evidence presented at the hearing equates to criminal charges of first-degree strangulation and third-degree reckless assault.

Prior to Pantaleo and his partner Justin D'Amico approaching Garner on a street in Staten Island, they were given orders by a superior to make "quality of life control" checks after a large volume of complaints were made from local businesses.

Unbeknownst to Pantaleo, D'Amico had a run-in with Garner two weeks prior about selling loose cigarettes and no arrest was made, according to the hearing testimony.

The encounter was captured on three separate cell phone videos that showed Garner again trying to convince D'Amico that he was not doing anything illegal. After numerous minutes of an escalating verbal confrontation, Pantaleo grabs Garner from behind.

O'Hare said during the 15 seconds of silence as Garner lost his footing, Pantaleo gripped his hands closer to Garner's neck.

Once Garner and Pantaleo were on the ground, four more officers arrived on the scene, but Pantaleo continued to hold on, O'Hare said.

Garner, 43, is heard on the videos repeating "I can't breathe" 11 times before becoming unresponsive.

Pantaleo's attorney, Stuart London, argued that his client didn't use a prohibited chokehold to take down Garner, but a grip called called a "seat belt maneuver."

"The seat belt maneuver was not approved in 2006 when Officer Pantaleo was trained," O'Hare said. "There is no evidence Officer Pantaleo was taught anything after the seat belt was introduced in 2011."

On Wednesday, retired NYPD Detective Russell Jung testified that there's "a million" tactics police officers aren't trained to use but implement on suspects to make arrests.

"This is not a free for all," O'Hare said. "There is a reason for training. You cannot learn something by talking about it in the locker room. If you do it wrong, someone can get hurt or someone can get killed. It is reckless to use this technique without training."

London vehemently argued his client's contact with Garner did not set off a "lethal cascade" that triggered asthma and ultimately causing his death.

"Eric Garner died of his own compromised health conditions," London said. "He was obese. He had hypertension cardiovascular disease. That's why he died...What we don't see on the video are the poor responses from the EMTs. They didn't come over in a rush or with oxygen masks, they did an unbelievably poor job."

O'Hare argued the chokehold was explicitly responsible.

"The chokehold was enough to set in motion the chain of events that killed Eric Garner," she said. "He couldn't breathe. God help us, he could not breathe."

Outside court amid angry protesters, London said cases like this normally allow for 90 days for a decision to be rendered. That is followed by a two-week period to allow the parties to respond to the decision from the police commissioner. But, London said, he expects an expedited schedule in this case and a possible decision on or around July 18.


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