Eric Garner's daughter to NYPD's O'Neill on firing Daniel Pantaleo: 'I thank you for doing the right thing,' police union head slams decision

1010 WINS Newsroom
August 19, 2019 - 12:41 pm

Eric Garner in an unbdated photo (Family handout)

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NEW YORK (1010 WINS/AP) -- NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill announced on Monday afternoon at a press conference that Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the officer in the Eric Garner case, has been fired.

"It is clear he can no longer serve in the New York City Police Department," O'Neill said.

He added, "Every time I watch that video I say to myself, 'Mr. Garner, don't do it. Comply. Officer Pantaleo, don't do it'... But none of us can take back our decisions, most especially when they lead to the death of another human being."

Garner's daughter, Emerald Garner, told reporters at a press conference with Al Sharpton, "Yes, he is fired, but ... we will continue to fight."

She did have a message for O'Neill, though:"I thank you for doing the right thing. I truly, sincerely thank you for firing the officer ... You finally made the decision that should have been made five years ago."

O'Neill said whatever Pantaleo contributed to the pension system, he will get back. 

Under penal law of the Civil Service, O'Neill said Pantaleo can appeal this decision, but it can't be overturned by a new police commissioner.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference following the announcement, "Justice has finally been done and that decision has resulted in the termination of Officer Pantaleo ... It will not bring Eric Garner back, but I hope it brings some small measure of closure to the Garner family ... For so long people wondered whether we’d be left without justice. Today, we have finally seen justice done." 

He continued, "I know we can build a New York City that ensures fairness and justice for all." 

De Blasio said of O'Neill, "No one cares more about the police officers of this city than Commissioner O'Neill." 

Pat Lynch, president of The Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, which represents over 50,000 active and retired New York City Police Officers, said in a statement, "Police Commissioner O'Neill has made his choice: he has chosen politics and his own self-interest over the police officers he claims to lead.  .... With this decision, Commissioner O'Neill has opened the door for politicians to dictate the outcome of every single NYPD disciplinary proceeding, without any regard for the facts of the case or police officers' due process right. He will wake up tomorrow to discover that the cop-haters are still not satisfied, but it will be too late. 

He continued, "The damage is already done. The NYPD will remain rudderless and frozen, and Commissioner O’Neill will never be able to bring it back. Now it is time for every PO in this city to make their own choice."

Lynch, who opposed Pantaleo's firing, added,

De Blasio told Errol Louis on NY1's "Inside City Hall" Monday night,  "I think what the union is doing is reprehensible."

The NYCLU immediately reacted, tweeting, "The NYPD just announced that they have fired Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold five years ago. It may be tempting to call this justice, but it's not.  We cannot lower our standards just because the NYPD has kept the bar so low."

New York State Attorney General Letitia James, tweeted, "For over 5 years, the Garner family & communities across the country have waited for justice in the death of Eric Garner. With the termination of Officer Pantaleo, today some semblance of justice is finally being served."

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted, "Eric Garner's family has been waiting 5 long years for justice.  While the system has failed Eric Garner's family repeatedly for the past 5 years, at least the right thing was done today."

Pantaleo was terminated after it was determined that he violated department police by restraining Garner with a prohibited chokehold in 2014.

O'Neill had been deliberating on whether to accept a disciplinary judge's recommendation to fire Pantaleo for using a banned chokehold on Garner.

Garner's dying words of "I can't breathe" were recorded on video and became a flash point in a national debate over race and police use of force.

The recordings led to years of protests and calls by black activists and liberal politicians for Pantaleo to lose his job. City officials had long insisted, though, they couldn't take action until criminal investigations were complete.

A state grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in 2014. Federal authorities, however, kept a civil rights investigation open for five years before announcing last month they wouldn't bring charges.

Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, said he would use legal appeals to try to get the officer reinstated. He has insisted the officer used a reasonable amount of force and did not mean to hurt Garner.

De Blasio had declined to say whether he believes Garner should lose his job but has been promising "justice" to the slain man's family.

Garner's death came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that sparked the national Black Lives Matter movement.

Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. And later in 2014, a man angry about the Garner and Brown cases shot two New York City police officers to death in their cruiser in retribution.

At a recent administrative trial at New York Police Department headquarters, Pantaleo's lawyers argued he used an approved "seat belt" technique to subdue Garner, who refused to be handcuffed after officers accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes.

In a bystander's video, it appeared that Pantaleo initially tried to use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, who was much larger at 6-foot-2 (188 centimeters) and about 400 pounds (180 kilograms), but ended up wrapping his arm around Garner's neck for about seven seconds as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to the sidewalk.

The footage showed Garner, who was 43 at the time, crying out, "I can't breathe," at least 11 times before he fell unconscious. The medical examiner's office said a chokehold contributed to Garner's death.

Questions about the handling of the case have dogged Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio during his long-shot run for president, with some protesters at the recent debate in Detroit chanting, "Fire Pantaleo."