NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in Eric Garner's chokehold death should be fired, judge recommends

Now it is up to the city's police commissioner whether the officer will keep his job.

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By Minyvonne Burke

A New York administrative judge recommended that Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City police officer at the center of Eric Garner's July 2014 death case, should be fired from the department, sources said Friday.

Now it is up to the city's police commissioner whether Pantaleo will keep his job, a decision the department said will come this month.

The NYPD announced that the officer has been suspended effective Friday in keeping with long-standing practice when there is a recommendation for firing.

News of the finding by the judge, who is the deputy commissioner of trials for the NYPD, was applauded by Garner's family.

"This has been a long battle. Five years too long. And finally, someone has said this cop has done something wrong,” Garner's daughter, Emerald Garner Snipes, said at a news conference following news of the recommendation.

She called on New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill to “do your job” and fire Pantaleo.

“We don’t want to wait no more. Make your decision, Mr. O’Neill, as soon as possible," she said.

Pantaleo, who was seen in cellphone footage from the July 2014 incident with his arm around Garner's neck as the unarmed black man repeatedly said "I can't breathe," had been on administrative duty since the death.

“All of New York City understandably seeks closure to this difficult chapter in our City’s history," the NYPD said in a statement, adding that it would not comment further until the commissioner makes the final determination.

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The head of the city's Civilian Complaint Review Board also urged O'Neill to "uphold this verdict and dismiss Pantaleo."

Eric Garner's death was ruled a homicide by the New York City medical examiner.Family photo / National Action Network via AP, file

"Today's decision confirms what the Civilian Complaint Review Board always maintained: Officer Daniel Pantaleo committed misconduct on July 17, 2014, and his actions caused the death of Eric Garner," a statement read.

The city's police union leader, meanwhile, derided the judge's recommendation as "pure political insanity."

"If it is allowed to stand, it will paralyze the NYPD for years to come," Patrick J. Lynch, president of the city's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said in a statement. He said the judge "ignored evidence" and "trampled" on Pantaleo's rights in order to deliver a recommendation that "politicians and protesters demanded."

If the commissioner follows the recommendation to fire Pantaleo, he "will lose his police department," Lynch said.

The recommendation is the result of a departmental trial earlier this year, and comes days after Mayor Bill de Blasio was heckled on national television during a Democratic presidential debate with calls to "Fire Pantaleo."

De Blasio said at a news conference Friday that the recommendation was a "step towards justice."

"We saw a process that was actually fair and impartial. I hope this will now bring the Garner family a sense of closure and the beginning of some peace," he said at the press conference that was interrupted by some people yelling, "Fire Pantaleo!"

It also comes weeks after the Justice Department said it would not bring federal civil rights or criminal charges against Pantaleo following a five-year investigation.

President Donald Trump weighed in on the case Friday before departing the White House to spend time at one of his properties in Bedminster, New Jersey, calling it "heartbreaking." He also said he would not interfere as the commissioner decides if he will fire Pantaleo.

"Well, it's in a process right now, I know the case very well, it's a very sad situation. It really, it's heartbreaking, but that's in a process right now so I'm not going to get involved in the process," Trump told reporters. "As you know, they're going to be making a final decision I guess over the next few days so I won't interfere with the process."

Garner, 43, who was asthmatic, was getting arrested on Staten Island on July 17, 2014, for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. A video taken by a bystander showed Pantaleo putting Garner in an apparent chokehold, which is prohibited by NYPD policies.

A father of six, Garner said he could not breathe 11 times during his arrest before going into cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

People participate in a protest to mark the five year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner during a confrontation with a police officer in the borough of Staten Island on July 17, 2019 in New York City.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

His death sparked national protests and the phrase "I can't breathe" became a rallying cry for police reform.

In August 2014, a medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, saying the chokehold was the cause. A grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict Pantaleo in Garner's death.

Pantaleo has said that he performed a legal move called the "seatbelt" on Garner.

The executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union said Friday that Pantaleo should never again be allowed to wear a police officer's uniform.

"Commissioner O'Neill owes it to the Garner family and all of New York to ensure that this will never happen again," Donna Lieberman said in a statement. "When an officer violates their own policies and kills a person they were sworn to protect, it should not take five years for any measure of accountability."