Officer who helped take down Eric Garner before he said, ‘I can’t breathe,’ to learn whether he keeps his job
The New York police officer accused of using a banned chokehold in the 2014 death of Eric Garner administered “a lethal dose of prohibited force” for no reason, as Garner posed no danger, a lawyer said Monday in a disciplinary hearing.
Anticipating Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s well-publicized defense — that he never choked Garner and that his technique for subduing him was in line with his training — attorney Jonathan Fogel said medical evidence will show hemorrhaging and trauma around Garner’s throat.
That trauma was the result of Pantaleo using an “explicitly, unequivocally” banned chokehold, said Fogel, who is acting as prosecutor for the Civilian Complaint Review Board in the New York Police Department proceedings against Pantaleo.
“He gave his victim a death sentence over loose cigarettes,” the attorney said.
Wearing a charcoal-colored suit, Pantaleo looked on as his attorney, Stuart London, countered that Garner was suffering from multiple health issues when he resisted arrest — the combination of which led to his death. Officers “exercised tremendous restraint” during the apprehension, which came after police accused Garner of selling cigarettes, he said.
“Mr. Garner died from being morbidly obese” and having other health issues, London said. “He was a ticking time bomb and set these facts in motion by resisting arrest.”
The defense attorney also called the autopsy report “wrong” and the medical examiner’s findings “inaccurate.” He said Garner suffered muscle bruising when he and an officer slammed into a store window. Officers never obstructed Garner’s breathing, he said.
It’s been almost five years since Garner died after telling officers, “I can’t breathe,” during an arrest in Staten Island. Garner’s words — with which Fogel began his opening statement — became a rallying cry against police use of excessive force.
Ten days, 20 witnesses
Pantaleo stands accused of breaking protocol by cutting off the 43-year-old’s air passage with a chokehold that the NYPD had banned years before Garner’s 2014 death. The officer’s lawyer and the police union have denied the allegation.
The 10-day disciplinary hearing will determine whether Pantaleo can remain on the force. As many as 20 witnesses, including the medical examiner in the case, are expected to be called.
Rosemarie Maldonado, the department’s deputy commissioner for trials, is overseeing the proceeding. If Pantaleo is found guilty of using a banned chokehold, Maldonado can recommend he be terminated. Commissioner James O’Neill then would determine whether Pantaleo could keep his job.
“We are confident that, once all the evidence has been presented, the Police Commissioner will find Officer Pantaleo guilty of misconduct and ultimately terminate him from the Department,” review board chairman Fred Davie said in a statement.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, has called for Pantaleo and other officers involved in her son’s arrest to be fired. She wept Monday as video of the encounter was played.
She left with her daughter and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has demanded justice in Garner’s killing. She later told a crowd outside it was difficult to see the video again: “It is very, very hard. You just don’t know. It’s beyond belief,” she says in video posted online by a police reform organization.
Carr said she and her family “have been fighting for five years to get justice.”
“I’m tired of the lies and misdirection from Daniel Pantaleo’s lawyers,” a Monday statement read. “They can call Pantaleo’s chokehold whatever fancy term they want to try to confuse people; it doesn’t matter — because the facts and the video speak for themselves.”
The NYPD is expected to launch disciplinary proceedings against Pantaleo’s supervisor, Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, one of the first officers to respond to the scene.
Without conceding liability, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer in 2015 issued a $5.9 million check to Garner’s family, saying the payout was “in the best interests of all parties.”