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New York Supreme Court judge orders judicial review of Eric Garner case

He died while in an apparent chokehold by a New York police officer in 2014. He said, "I can't breathe."
Image: Carr, mother of Eric Garner speaks during a press conference outside Police Headquarters in New York
Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, in New York last year.Eduardo Munoz / Reuters file

A New York Supreme Court judge on Thursday ordered a public judicial inquiry into the case of Eric Garner, the 43-year-old who died after being put in an apparent chokehold by a New York police officer in 2014.

Judge Joan Madden on Thursday ordered a "summary inquiry" into the case, including an alleged lack of immediate medical aid to Garner by officers; alleged lies in a police report; the unauthorized release of Garner's arrest record; and release of autopsy information by New York City's Office of Chief Medical Examiner.

She did not indicate who would conduct the inquiry or when it would take place. She set a hearing on the matter for Oct. 6.

The group Communities United for Police Reform called the ruling a "major win for transparency and basic civil rights."

The organization said in a statement that the decision could allow for Mayor Bill de Blasio, former New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill and others "to take the stand and answer to claims of neglect and the violations of duty related to the killing of Eric Garner."

The ruling is part of civil litigation against city officials by Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, and sister, Ellisha Flagg. They were awarded $5.9 million in a 2015 settlement with the city.

A Staten Island grand jury in late 2014 declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo on criminal charges related to Garner's death. Pantaleo has denied any wrongdoing but was fired last year.

The New York City Police Benevolent Association could not be reached for comment Friday but its president, Pat Lynch, has maintained that Pantaleo and partner Justin Damico did nothing wrong when they confronted Garner on July 17, 2014, for allegedly selling loose cigarettes illegally in Staten Island and took him to the ground.

While he was on the ground, Garner said, "I can't breathe," words echoed by George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody in May. Floyd's death and the fatal police shooting in March of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, at her home in Louisville, Kentucky, prompted nationwide protests and demands for police reform and racial justice.

Lynch said last year that Pantaleo and Damico "utilized textbook de-escalation techniques to limit the use of force against a much larger and irate individual." Neither officer could be reached for comment Friday evening.

A city medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide by asphyxiation, likely from a chokehold. The New York Police Department banned chokeholds in 1993.

The Office of Chief Medical Examiner did not respond immediately to a request for comment Friday. New York Police Department Sgt. Jessica McRorie said by email that "the New York City Police Department is reviewing the determination by the State Supreme court."

Madden said in her ruling that there was "no indication" police administered aid to Garner after he fell unconscious. She called an alleged lack of investigation by the police commissioner "neglect of duty."

She also suggested Damico lied in claiming in a police report that Garner committed a felony for selling loose cigarettes, although the amount in his possession would not have supported such a charge.

She rejected a request by Carr and Flagg for an inquiry into the actions of medical first-responders.