By MARLENE LENTHANG and AARON KATERSKY
(NEW YORK) — The former New York Police Department officer who was fired in August 2019 over the death of Eric Garner has lost his bid to get his job back.
Daniel Pantaleo was fired by then-New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill after a departmental trial found he used an unauthorized chokehold to restrain Garner, a 43-year-old Black man who was arrested on Staten Island in a dispute over selling loose cigarettes.
Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a national rallying cry.
Pantaleo sued the NYPD and O’Neill in October 2019.
On Thursday the court sided with the NYPD, deeming Pantaleo “reckless” for putting Gardner in the chokehold.
“Substantial evidence supports respondents’ conclusion that petitioner recklessly caused injury to Eric Garner by maintaining a prohibited chokehold for 9 to 10 seconds after exigent circumstances were no longer present, thereby disregarding the risk of injury,” the three-judge panel decided.
The departmental trial determined Pantaleo did not intentionally strangle Garner but the appellate division said his firing was not unexpected.
“Conduct far less serious than petitioner’s has been found by the Court of Appeals to have a destructive impact … on the confidence, which it is so important for the public to have in its police officers,” the panel said.
Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, said in response to the ruling: “We are disappointed with the reasoning and the decision handed down today and we are carefully reviewing the decision to explore our appellate options.”
On July 17, 2014, Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold and wrestled him to the ground. Garner exclaimed multiple times, “I can’t breathe.” The New York City’s medical examiner ruled that Garner’s death was a homicide because Pantaleo’s chokehold triggered a cascade of events that ended with a fatal asthma attack.
A Staten Island grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice both declined to bring criminal charges against Pantaleo.
He was terminated from the NYPD after a department disciplinary trial led Judge Rosemarie Maldonado to recommend his termination.
Garner’s death led to national Black Lives Matter protests decrying racism and police brutality against Black people. The Memorial Day death of George Floyd further fueled the protests for its parallels to Garner’s case. Floyd, too, repeated, “I can’t breathe,” when a police officer pushed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
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