Eric garner death

Eric garner death DEFAULT

5 years after Eric Garner's death, a look back at the case and the movement it sparked

It has been five years since the last words Eric Garner would ever utter was captured on his friend's cellphone video.

The almost three-minute clip shows Garner's interaction with NYPD Officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin D'Amico for allegedly selling loose untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island, New York. It ends with Garner belly down on the sidewalk repeating "I can't breathe" 11 times until he loses consciousness.

The incident on July 17, 2014, was one of the first to capture a seemingly minor interaction with police escalate out of control, and it served as a renewed catalyst for the national movement against police brutality.

From the deaths of Laquan McDonald in October 2014 to Cleveland's Tamir Rice in November of that same year, Garner's last words became a rallying cry each time another unarmed civilian was killed during a police-involved incident.

And it demonstrated the power of video to bear witness to controversial interactions with police.

A 5-year battle for justice

The death of Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, was ruled a homicide in August 2014 by Dr. Floriana Persechino, a senior medical examiner for New York City. In Persechino's report, she not only conducted a traditional autopsy, but used the cellphone video to determine that a "chokehold" triggered a fatal cascade of events, including an asthma attack, that led to Garner's death.

Nonetheless, that December, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo. The move sparked protests that called into question the abilities of local prosecutors to hold members of law enforcement, especially police officers, accountable.

The NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau launched its own investigation into Pantaleo's conduct. On Jan. 15, 2015, it concluded that a chokehold was administered and recommended charges, according to court documents.

But the finding wasn't made public and the case languished for years while the NYPD awaited potential federal charges against Pantaleo.

A family fights for change and suffers another loss

Garner's eldest daughter and namesake, Erica, became an outspoken activist -- along with her grandmother, Gwen Carr -- calling for justice for her father. She also released a song called "This Ends Today," which includes audio from her father's confrontation with the officers.

Tragically, Erica Garner passed away in December 2017 after suffering a heart attack. She was 27.

Since Eric Garner's death, his mother, a retired transit train operator, also became an activist and wrote a book, "This Stops Today."

"His death set the tone for a new normal where young black men and women now automatically document police interactions with their cell phones for fear of brutality and even death," Carr's website says.

Carr was embraced by other women like Iris Baez, Hawa Bah and Constance Malcolm, whose sons were killed by police officers who were also not charged. The heartbroken mothers joined with elected officials like the former New York City Public Advocate Leticia James, who is now the state's attorney general, to call for grand jury reform and for a special prosecutor to step in to investigate fatal police-involved incidents where an unarmed civilian was killed.

In July 2015, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order assigning the state attorney general to investigate cases where unarmed civilians are killed during law enforcement-related incidents. The order was considered a temporary fix as Cuomo waits for lawmakers to pass a bill that would fully fund a separate office to conduct the investigations.

To date, nine states have created procedures to improve transparency into police-involved deaths or allegations of misconduct, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only New Jersey, Maine and Montgomery County, Maryland, have passed laws to require outside law enforcement personnel to investigate police-involved deaths.

Although Cuomo's executive order was too late for the Garner family, the state AG's office has investigated 17 cases as of May 2018.

Of those cases, the AG has charged two law enforcement officials: Officer Wayne Isaacs for the July 4, 2016, death of Delrawn Small, and Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel E. Abelove for allegedly concealing evidence during an investigation of a fatal police-involved shooting of a Troy, New York, man.

A jury acquitted Isaacs. And a state judge tossed Abelove's indictment, saying that the AG's office overstepped its jurisdictional authority to charge for felony perjury charges.

His last words, an emerging movement

"I can’t breathe!"

Before Garner’s death was captured on camera and seen around the world, a relatively new hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, was taking form. Following the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, a Florida community watchman who shot an unarmed 17-year-old boy wearing a hoodie -- Trayvon Martin, who Zimmerman said looked "suspicious" -- a group came together to, among other things, shine light on the senseless killings of African Americans.

Others deaths would follow, including the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the organization and hashtag took the country by storm.

Among the deaths that Black Lives Matter protested was Garner’s. "I can’t breathe" was soon heard and seen in massive protests in New York City -- in chants, on placards, and in social media accompanying the now-famous hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter -- which contributed to a national discussion that even reached President Barack Obama’s White House.

Garner’s death was also among the first to be captured on video. In the months and years that followed, the deaths of other innocent black people were also seen worldwide -- Laquan McDonald in Chicago in 2014; Walter Scott in South Carolina in 2015; and Philando Castile in Minnesota in 2016, to name a few.

The police officers who killed McDonald and Scott were convicted and sentenced to prison terms; the officer who shot Castile to death was indicted but later acquitted in a trial.

The search for justice for Garner’s family, however, has been more elusive and filled with uncertainty.

One last chance

In 2017, a Staten Island civil court judge approved a $4 million wrongful death settlement for the Garner family.

Still, years after his death and the NYPD announced departmental charges against Pantaleo, no criminal charges have been filed against the officer.

The move came on the heels of a letter sent to the Department of Justice by the NYPD's deputy commissioner of legal matters, Larry Byrne, who wrote: "The NYPD has come to the conclusion that given the extraordinary passage of time since the incident without a final decision on the U.S. DOJ's criminal investigation, any further delay in moving ahead with our own disciplinary proceedings can no longer be justified."

The seven-day departmental hearing in May and June was conducted by the Civilian Complaint Review Board because federal charges were still pending.

During that CCRB hearing, Garner's mother and supporters sat inside the small courtroom within police headquarters in lower Manhattan to hear Pantaleo's attorney, Stuart London, charge that Garner caused his own death because of his weight and heart disease. Each day after the hearing adjourned, London and union representatives were greeting by dozens of demonstrators.

London maintains that Pantaleo did not use an illegal chokehold, but a takedown method called a "seatbelt."

Pantaleo, 33, did not testify during the hearing; instead, his lawyers submitted 75 pages of his interview with IAB for the department's consideration.

If found guilty, Pantaleo, who has been on desk duty, could face termination or a loss of vacation days. Ultimately, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill or Mayor Bill de Blasio can determine the officer's fate by deciding his punishment.

London told ABC News York affiliate WABC after closing arguments that Pantaleo wants to keep his job.

Time is running out, though, for federal charges against Pantaleo -- the DOJ has just days to decide whether to prosecute him before the fifth anniversary of Garner's death.


On July 17, 2014, two New York Police Department officers confront Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American father of six, for illegally selling cigarettes. Garner dies after losing consciousness as a police officer locks him in an illegal chokehold, and within hours, a video of the incident begins to spark outrage across the country.

Garner was known as a "neighborhood peacemaker" in his Staten Island community, and was also well-known to the police for selling cigarettes illegally near the ferry terminal on Staten Island. 

Officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin D'Amico, called to the scene because of a fight that Garner reportedly broke up, exchanged words with Garner about his cigarettes before Pantaleo reached around Garner's neck and put him in a chokehold, despite such a maneuver being against NYPD rules. 

Pinned to the ground by the officers, Garner repeatedly told them, "I can't breathe." Eventually, he lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead at a hospital roughly an hour later, and the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide by suffocation.

Footage of the incident quickly went viral. There were protests in the days following Garner's death, but it was a grand jury's decision not to indict Pantaleo on December 3 that sparked large demonstrations in New York City and elsewhere across the country. 

Garner's last words, "I can't breathe," became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. The police officer whose chokehold led to Garner’s death in 2014 was fired from the Police Department in 2019 and stripped of his pension benefits.

The following year, when New York State repealed its ban on publicizing police disciplinary records, it was revealed that Pantaleo had been investigated for misconduct seven times in the five years before Garner's death.

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Daniel Pantaleo, officer fired in Eric Garner's death, loses lawsuit to get job back

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Ex-NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo lost his lawsuit to have his job reinstated, after he was fired for his role in the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island.

A state appellate court agreed with NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, that Pantaleo was reckless when he put Garner in a chokehold during an arrest in 2014 that led to his death.

RELATED | Daniel Pantaleo, officer fired in Eric Garner death, sues to get job back

"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 judges said.

Pantaleo was fired in 2019, after a department trial found he used an unauthorized chokehold.

The trial determined Pantaleo did not intentionally strangle Garner, but the appellate division said his firing was not "shocking to one's sense of fairness."

Pantaleo's lawyer said his client was "obviously disappointed."

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Man who filmed Eric Garner’s death suing NY police

Eric Garner’s Death Will Not Lead to Federal Charges for N.Y.P.D. Officer

Five years after Mr. Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry, Attorney General William P. Barr ordered the case be dropped.

Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, spoke at a press conference on Tuesday after the Justice Department declined to pursue federal charges against a New York City police officer in his 2014 death.

[For more about police violence and unrest, go here]

A contentious, yearslong debate inside the Justice Department over whether to bring federal civil rights charges against an officer in the death of Eric Garner ended on Tuesday after Attorney General William P. Barr ordered that the case be dropped.

The United States attorney in Brooklyn, Richard P. Donoghue, announced the decision one day before the fifth anniversary of Mr. Garner’s death at the hands of police officers on Staten Island.

[Update: Mayor Bill de Blasio under pressure to fire officer in Eric Garner case.]

The case had sharply divided federal officials and prompted national protests over excessive force by the police.

Bystanders filmed the arrest on their cellphones, recording Mr. Garner as he gasped “I can’t breathe,” and his death was one of several fatal encounters between black people and the police that catalyzed the national Black Lives Matter movement.

His dying words became a rallying cry for demonstrations that led to changes in policing practices across the United States.

Still, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was captured on a video wrapping his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck. The federal civil rights investigation dragged on for five years amid internal disputes in the Justice Department, under both President Barack Obama and President Trump.

In the end, Mr. Barr made the call not to seek a civil rights indictment against Officer Pantaleo, just before a deadline for filing some charges expired.

His intervention settled the disagreement between prosecutors in the civil rights division, which has pushed for an indictment, and Brooklyn prosecutors, who never believed the department could win such a case.



Listen to ‘The Daily’: A Decision in the Eric Garner Case

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Michael Simon Johnson and Eric Krupke, with help from Jessica Cheung, and edited by Lisa Tobin and Marc Georges

Five years after Mr. Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry, the Justice Department said it would not pursue charges against a New York City police officer.

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

Today: The Justice Department will not bring federal charges against the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner. Ashley Southall on why that decision was reached five years after “I can’t breathe” became a national rallying cry.

It’s Wednesday, July 17.

Ashley, tell me what happened on Tuesday.

archived recording (richard donoghue)

Good morning. Thank you for coming today.

ashley southall

So the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Richard Donoghue, whose office is based in Brooklyn, but also oversees Staten Island, came out and said —

archived recording (richard donoghue)

Before I continue, let me say, as clearly and unequivocally as I can, that Mr. Garner’s death was a tragedy. For anyone to die under circumstances like these is a tremendous loss.

ashley southall

They’ve done an exhaustive review. They’ve looked at every piece of evidence, but —

archived recording (richard donoghue)

But these unassailable facts are separate and distinct from whether a federal crime has been committed. And the evidence here does not support charging police officer Daniel Pantaleo or any other officer with a federal criminal civil rights violation.

ashley southall

— that they would not bring charges against any of the officers involved in Eric Garner’s death on July 17, 2014.

archived recording (richard donoghue)

We know and understand that some will be disappointed by this decision, but it is the conclusion that is compelled by the evidence and the law.

ashley southall

He’s making this announcement one day before the fifth anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, which is important, because for the charge that they thought was appropriate in this case, they only had five years to decide whether to bring it.

michael barbaro

So this is basically the last possible moment to bring this charge.

ashley southall

Exactly. And at the end of the day, the prevailing consensus was that they could not do that in this case.

archived recording (richard donoghue)

Consequently, the investigation into this incident has been closed.

michael barbaro

And remind us of the details of this case, of what happened to Eric Garner, where this case begins.

ashley southall

The case starts on July 17, 2014 on a hot summer day in Staten Island. The police say that a man by the name of Eric Garner has died during an attempt to arrest him. There’s no mention of any kind of use of force, no mention of a chokehold. And then the next morning, the police and the public wake up to this video.

archived recording (eric garner)

Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. This stops today.

archived recording

This guy right here is forcibly trying to lock somebody up for breaking up a fight.

ashley southall

It shows two officers, Justin Damico and Daniel Pantaleo, approach Eric Garner on a street in Tompkinsville. And they accuse him of selling cigarettes. And he says, no, man, I’m not selling anything. I’m just minding my business. Leave me alone.

archived recording (eric garner)

Everybody standing here. They’ll tell you I didn’t do nothing. I did not sell nothing.

ashley southall

This goes on for about 10 minutes.

archived recording (eric garner)

You want to harass me? You want to stop me?

ashley southall

Officer Damico moves in to try to handcuff Eric Garner, and he flails his hands away. Then you have Officer Pantaleo attempt a takedown. They fall back into plate glass.

archived recording

Hold on, hold on.

ashley southall

Mr. Garner’s 400 pounds. Officer Pantaleo is probably another 190, 200. The glass is going to buckle. So then they fall forward onto the sidewalk, and that’s where they get Mr. Garner prone and handcuff him. And other officers have arrived at the scene by then. There are about seven seconds when you see Officer Pantaleo’s arm around Eric Garner’s neck. At some point, he releases, and Mr. Garner is saying —

archived recording (eric garner)

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

ashley southall

I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. He ultimately says it 11 times.

archived recording

Once again, police beating up on people.

ashley southall

E.M.S. eventually arrives. They don’t have any oxygen.

archived recording (speaker 1)

Look, now, man, they gave this man a seizure.

archived recording (speaker 2)

No, move out the way. No.

archived recording (speaker 3)

It’s my brother. We live here.

ashley southall

And he was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

michael barbaro

What happens in the aftermath of this video being released?

ashley southall

So pretty much right away, there are calls for Officer Pantaleo to be fired and for him and other officers to be criminally charged, both for Eric Garner’s death, but also for the omissions of the use of force from official reports.

michael barbaro

Because until this video is released, the officers involved in the encounter, they haven’t mentioned any of the tactics that they’ve used.

ashley southall

Correct. And then three things happen simultaneously. The police Internal Affairs Bureau begins looking into the incident to see if any protocols were violated. At the same time, the Staten Island district attorney is looking at whether a crime was committed and then begins to present evidence to a grand jury. And at the same time, the feds are also looking in on these investigations, trying to see what evidence there is. But at that moment, they’re not yet investigating, because there’s a local process that has to play out.

michael barbaro

And when you say the feds, you mean the Department of Justice.

ashley southall

The Department of Justice.

michael barbaro

So my sense is that this is all moving as would be expected in a case like this. But what’s different is that a month after this happens, Michael Brown is shot in Ferguson and the issue of how police treat unarmed black Americans becomes a major national issue.

ashley southall

Correct. But it’s an issue that’s been bubbling up for some time. If you will reverse back to 2012, when Ramarley Graham was shot and killed by a New York City police officer, he was unarmed.

archived recording

Officer Richard Haste was indicted for manslaughter, but a judge reluctantly threw out the indictment in May on procedural grounds.

ashley southall

Then, a few weeks later, you have Trayvon Martin, who was killed by a vigilante in Florida.

archived recording

We have just learned that the jury has determined that Zimmerman is not guilty of any crime.

ashley southall

And then you have Eric Garner in July 2014, followed by Michael Brown that August.

archived recording

The conclusion? That police officer Darren Wilson was not guilty of a crime when he shot Michael Brown to death on August 9.

ashley southall

And then you have Akai Gurley and Tamir Rice within days of each other.

archived recording

A grand jury decided not to indict Timothy Loehmann, who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

ashley southall

So people are seeing this pattern of unarmed black men and boys, and even some women, being killed by the police and no one being held responsible or accountable for their deaths. And that is the backdrop for the decision by the grand jury in Staten Island in December 2014 that there isn’t enough evidence to prove that Officer Pantaleo committed a crime.

michael barbaro

So like the D.O.J. this week, the investigation by the Staten Island district attorney all the way back in 2014 finds that there’s not sufficient evidence.

ashley southall

Yes. And to the public, that’s infuriating. Because keep in mind that in the months between Eric Garner’s death in July and the grand jury’s decision in December, the public has learned that the medical examiner, who is a pathologist, deemed this a homicide. And they also learned that, for at least 20 years, chokeholds have been explicitly banned by the police department. And what people saw on that video was an officer using a banned chokehold and Mr. Garner dying.

archived recording

(CHANTING) I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

And what do we know about how this grand jury decided not to press charges in what seemed to so many, from the video, like a clear-cut case?

ashley southall

One thing that the grand jury also heard that the public did not was testimony from Officer Pantaleo about what he intended to do. And he got up there in front of them and said that it was not his intent to use a chokehold. It was not his intent to harm Mr. Garner or to kill him. It was his intent to bring him down and affect an arrest as he had been ordered to do

michael barbaro

And that testimony, it sounds like, becomes important, the question of intent.

ashley southall

Yes, because the standard of proof in a criminal case is that the prosecutor needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer willfully acted in violation of the law, that it was an officer’s intent and his will to violate the law. And for that grand jury, the decision not to press charges indicates that the evidence didn’t meet that standard.

michael barbaro

And what about the fact that the use of a chokehold had been banned by police, regardless of intent? Didn’t he use an illegal practice? And wasn’t that weighed by the grand jury?

ashley southall

What Officer Pantaleo told the Internal Affairs Bureau, and later the grand jury, was that he wasn’t intending to use a chokehold. He said he was trying to use a seat-belt technique, which is a tactic approved by the N.Y.P.D. and taught at the Police Academy.

michael barbaro

It’s another kind of restraint?

ashley southall

Yes. And what his lawyers have also pointed out is that, whether it was a seat belt or a chokehold, once they’re on the ground and Mr. Garner begins to grunt and say, “I can’t breathe,” he releases him.

michael barbaro

So after the district attorney decides not to press charges, what happens to the case of Eric Garner?

ashley southall

So you’ll remember that this whole time, the Department of Justice has been watching the investigation play out. And once the local investigation is done, it’s now in their territory.

archived recording (eric holder)

Good evening. I want to provide an update regarding the case involving Eric Garner.

michael barbaro

And when the Department of Justice steps in, Ashley, what are they looking at? Is it a new question or are they basically investigating the same things as the city?

ashley southall

So what the grand jury in Staten Island was looking at was whether Officer Pantaleo committed a crime.

archived recording (eric holder)

Now that the local investigation has concluded, I’m here to announce that the Justice Department will proceed with a federal civil rights investigation into Mr. Garner’s death.

ashley southall

Here, the federal government is looking at whether his crime was violating Eric Garner’s civil rights.

archived recording (eric holder)

This afternoon, I spoke with the widow of Eric Garner to inform her and her family of our decision to investigate potential federal civil rights violations.

ashley southall

And in this case, there were two key things that they wanted to establish, or that they’d felt they needed to establish. One, that the force Officer Pantaleo used to subdue Mr. Garner was objectively unreasonable, that a police officer acting in those circumstances could have recognized what he did as just too much. And then the second thing that they wanted to establish was that his conduct was a willful violation of the law, that he knew the law and that he acted in a way that disregarded it.

michael barbaro

And by those measures, did the Department of Justice feel that it had a strong case to bring against this officer?

ashley southall

So this is the question that they were asking themselves over the more than four years that they were investigating this incident. And there was a lot of disagreement between mostly civil rights prosecutors in Washington, who thought that they should bring charges and thought that there was enough evidence there, and then the prosecutors in Brooklyn, who were going to be the ones who had to prosecute the case, who thought that it was not winnable.

michael barbaro

And what’s your understanding of why those two sides disagreed? What was Washington thinking? And what was New York thinking?

ashley southall

From what we know, it really came down to the willfulness. On the video, some prosecutors thought that the fact that Officer Pantaleo kept his arm around Eric Garner’s neck even after they were on the ground showed that he willfully disregarded the law. In Brooklyn, they were not so sure. And part of that, you can imagine, is from Officer Pantaleo’s testimony that his intent was not to hurt him. His intent was to arrest him.

So all the while that prosecutors are conducting their investigation and dealing with these questions about whether they have a case and whether they can win it, the White House changes hands from President Obama to President Trump. We go through a series of attorneys general — Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, Jeff Sessions, who are all overseeing this case from Washington. And then you end up with Bill Barr, our current attorney general.

michael barbaro

And the decision ultimately —

ashley southall

Who ultimately makes the decision himself.

archived recording (richard donoghue)

In order for a federal criminal civil rights charge to be brought, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer willfully used more force than he reasonably could have believed was necessary under the circumstances. And the law recognizes that police are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.

ashley southall

So one of the main questions of this case is whether or not Officer Pantaleo actually used a chokehold.

archived recording (richard donoghue)

As Mr. Garner and Officer Pantaleo struggled, Officer Pantaleo held onto Mr. Garner and both men fell backward. In the process, Officer Pantaleo’s body slammed against a store window, causing the window to buckle.

ashley southall

And in this explanation, Mr. Donoghue said, yes, he did.

archived recording (richard donoghue)

It appears that in response to that collision and to maintain a hold on Mr. Garner, Officer Pantaleo wrapped his left arm around Mr. Garner’s neck, resulting in what was, in effect, a chokehold.

ashley southall

But here’s how prosecutors dealt with that question.

archived recording (richard donoghue)

Like many of you, I have watched that video many times. And each time I’ve watched it, I’m left with the same reaction.

ashley southall

There is an emotional side that looks at that tape and says —

archived recording (richard donoghue)

That the death of Eric Garner was a tragedy.

ashley southall

That’s a tragedy.

archived recording (richard donoghue)

The job of a federal prosecutor, however —

ashley southall

But then —

archived recording (richard donoghue)

— is not to let our emotions dictate our decisions. Our job is to review the evidence gathered during the investigation, like the video, to assess whether we can prove that a federal crime was committed. At the end of the day, however, the video and the other evidence gathered in the investigation does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Pantaleo acted willfully in violation of federal law.

ashley southall

What you see on video is very clearly an escalation by the officers to make this arrest for this very minor offense. And it ends with Mr. Garner dying. And so the net effect is that Mr. Garner’s punishment for allegedly selling cigarettes that day is death. That, in many people’s eyes, is too much. But in the eyes of the law, the prosecutors here, based not just on the video, but on the testimony of witnesses and the testimony of the officers, thought there just wasn’t enough.

michael barbaro

So Ashley, it’s been five years to the day that Eric Garner died during this interaction with the N.Y.P.D. And it now seems like prosecutors seem to have closed the book on this case. What, if anything, happens now? Is this case over?

ashley southall

Throughout these five years, Officer Pantaleo has been in a desk job without his gun or his badge. He hasn’t been out on patrol. And —

michael barbaro

He remains on the force.

ashley southall

Yes. There’s this process underway in the N.Y.P.D. that will ultimately end with the police commissioner, James O’Neill, deciding whether or not he gets to stay on the force as a police officer or if he has to leave. And he could allow him to resign. He could fire him. Or he could just dock him some vacation days. That decision could take weeks, it could take months, or it could happen tomorrow. We don’t know. But it’s not over for him.

michael barbaro

So what happens to him may end up being the accountability. It’s not going to happen in a courtroom, it seems. It’s not going to happen at the federal court level or the district attorney level, but it might happen inside the N.Y.P.D.

ashley southall

The Garner family has demanded for the last five years that Officer Pantaleo be fired. They have also asked for the other officers who were involved in his death and those who filed official reports that didn’t mention the chokehold, that didn’t mention any uses of force, should also be fired and held accountable.

archived recording (emerald snipes)

I’m going to stand outside and I’m going to scream it. Pantaleo needs to be fired! He needs to be fired! Don’t apologize to me. Fire the officer. Don’t give me your condolences. I heard that five years ago. We want justice, and we want it today.

ashley southall

If that’s what the family wants, they have quite the mountain to climb. Officer Pantaleo is still on the force. Half of the officers’ names the family doesn’t know, because the city has withheld them. But the message from the family of Eric Garner today was loud and clear.

archived recording (gwen carr)

This is what we have to live every day. And you know what? We’re not going to take this sitting down.

archived recording

That’s right.

archived recording (gwen carr)

This is not going down like this, because if it was one of their loved ones, it would have never went this far. So my son’s death is not going in vain. We’re going to fight this to the last straw if I’m the only one out on the street. And I’ve got all of these supporters behind me.

michael barbaro

Ashley, thank you very much.

ashley southall

Thanks for having me on.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today.

archived recording

But you’ve stopped short of calling these comments racist.

archived recording (mitch mcconnell)

Well, the president’s not a racist. The president’s not a racist.

michael barbaro

On Tuesday, top Republicans in Congress rallied to the defense of President Trump, denying that his tweet calling on four Democratic congresswomen to return to the countries from which they came were bigoted and racist.

archived recording

Mr. Leader, were the president’s tweets that said “go back” racist? Yes or no?

archived recording (kevin mccarthy)

No. And I do not —

michael barbaro

On Twitter, the president himself confronted the allegation, writing that, quote, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”

archived recording (nancy pelosi)

Every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us in condemning the president’s racist tweets.

michael barbaro

Hours later, on the House floor, speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced a resolution condemning Trump’s attacks on Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

archived recording (nancy pelosi)

To do anything less would be a shocking rejection of our values and a shameful abdication of our oath of office to protect the American people. I urge a unanimous —

michael barbaro

As Pelosi spoke, House Republicans demanded that she retract her description of the president’s comments as racist.

archived recording (doug collins)

I was just going to give the gentle speaker of the House if she would like to rephrase that comment.

archived recording (nancy pelosi)

I have cleared my remarks with the parliamentarian before I read them.

archived recording (doug collins)

I take it — can I ask her words be taken down? I make a point of order — the gentlewoman’s words are unparliamentary and ready to be taken down.

michael barbaro

House Democrats went on to pass the resolution with the support of just four House Republicans.

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Donoghue called Mr. Garner’s death a tragedy, but said “the evidence does not support charging Police Officer Pantaleo with a federal civil rights violation.” He went over the arrest step by step, maintaining the government could not prove Officer Pantaleo willfully used excessive force to violate Mr. Garner’s rights.

The Garner family and its supporters immediately condemned Mr. Barr’s decision, saying the Justice Department had failed them.

Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, shifted the pressure to Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, calling on the city to fire Officer Pantaleo and vowing to fight to hold the officers involved in the arrest accountable.

“We’re not going away, so you can forget that,” Ms. Carr said. “New Yorkers need to come out and flood this city tomorrow.”




‘Evidence Does Not Support’ Charging Officer in Eric Garner’s Death, U.S. Attorney Says

United States Attorney Richard P. Donoghue explained the Department of Justice’s decision not to file federal charges against a New York City police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

Let me say as clearly and unequivocally as I can, that Mr. Garner’s death was a tragedy. For anyone to die under circumstances like these is a tremendous loss. For the family to suffer as this family has for too long, has only compounded the loss. But these unassailable facts are separate and distinct from whether a federal crime has been committed. And the evidence here does not support charging Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo — or any other officer — with a federal criminal civil rights violation.

Video player loading

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who was standing with her, added: “Five years ago, Eric Garner was choked to death; today the federal government choked Lady Justice, and that is why we are outraged.”

At a later rally on the steps of City Hall, a parade of family members, community leaders, local politicians and civil rights lawyers vented their fury at Mr. Barr and other officials.

Stuart London, a lawyer for Officer Pantaleo, said that his client was “gratified” to hear of the Justice Department decision.

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, said Officer Pantaleo had been unfairly singled out for blame and was carrying out a superior’s orders.

“Scapegoating a good and honorable officer, who was doing his job in the manner he was taught, will not heal the wounds this case has caused for our entire city,” Mr. Lynch said.

From the start, the Pantaleo investigation sharply divided the Justice Department.

Eric H. Holder Jr., Mr. Obama’s attorney general at the time of Mr. Garner’s death, said that evidence strongly suggested the federal government should bring charges against Officer Pantaleo, even though it was notoriously hard to prosecute police officers for deaths in custody.

The last time the federal government brought a deadly force case against a New York police officer was in 1998, when Officer Francis X. Livoti stood trial on — and was eventually convicted of — civil rights charges in the choking death of a Bronx man named Anthony Baez.

But the prosecutors in the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn, led by Loretta E. Lynch, did not believe they could win in court and balked at bringing charges.

Once Ms. Lynch succeeded Mr. Holder in April 2015, however, Vanita Gupta, the head of the civil rights division, and her lawyers convinced Ms. Lynch that the officers had very likely violated Mr. Garner’s civil rights.

Ms. Lynch allowed the civil rights division to take a lead role in the case, and the following September the department replaced the F.B.I. agents and prosecutors who had been working on the case with a new team from outside of New York.

The two sides disagreed over whether the widely published video of Mr. Garner’s arrest proved that Officer Pantaleo had acted wrongfully. Prosecutors in Washington D.C. accused their colleagues in Brooklyn of mishandling the investigation.

To the bitter end, prosecutors on both sides of the debate lobbied Mr. Barr in a series of briefings; and Mr. Barr reviewed the video multiple times, officials said.

But it remains unclear if prosecutors interviewed Mr. Pantaleo, which would have helped establish his state of mind and intent when he put Mr. Garner into a hold. When asked whether prosecutors had interviewed the officer, a Justice Department official would say only that the department had access to “statements relevant to that analysis.”

Mr. Barr, in the end, sided with prosecutors in New York.

But it is ultimately up to Commissioner James P. O’Neill, the final arbiter of police discipline, to decide whether to fire Officer Pantaleo or punish him in some other way.

However, the commissioner will not make a formal decision until the police administrative judge who oversaw a disciplinary trial that ended in June renders her verdict, a spokesman for the department, Philip T. Walzak, said in a statement.

Officer Pantaleo, 34, has been on desk duty without a shield or a gun since Mr. Garner died, a status that has allowed him to accrue pay and pension benefits.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, called the Justice Department’s decision an “outrage” and said the Police Department “must make their departmental findings fully transparent to the public and take immediate actions to ensure this officer is no longer on the force.”

Mr. Garner, who was 43, died on a Staten Island sidewalk on July 17, 2014, after Officer Pantaleo wrapped an arm around his neck from behind and took him to the ground. Other officers put their weight on him, compressing his chest against the pavement.

The officers had been ordered to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes, and he had resisted. A medical examiner testified at the disciplinary hearing that the pressure on Mr. Garner’s neck and chest set in motion a fatal asthma attack.

Federal prosecutors did a “rigorous analysis” of the event, but in the end they did not believe they had enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Pantaleo had committed a crime, a senior Justice Department official said on Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized to speak on the record.

To prove criminal conduct, the official said, the government had to convince a jury that in the middle of a dynamic arrest Officer Pantaleo made a clear decision to apply a chokehold, which the Police Department had banned more than two decades ago. It was a burden that prosecutors did not believe they could meet, the official said.

None of the New York officers involved in Mr. Garner’s death have been charged with a crime or disciplined by the Police Department. That fact has enraged the Garner family and various advocacy groups devoted to holding the police accountable for abuses of power.

The state grand jury declined to bring charges against Officer Pantaleo in December 2014, after he testified in his own defense that he did not put Mr. Garner into a chokehold, and that he had feared he would be pushed through a storefront window during the struggle.

The Justice Department said Tuesday that it had weighed four elements in deciding whether to charge Officer Pantaleo, including whether he used unreasonable force, whether he willfully violated the law, whether he acted in his official capacity as a law enforcement professional and whether the other person was injured.

Mr. Donoghue said prosecutors did not believe they could prove he had intentionally used unreasonable force. Even if they could prove the officer had used force that was “objectively unreasonable,” the government would still have to show the officer did so “willfully,” a very high level of intent.

The Brooklyn prosecutors who studied the video of the encounter concluded that Officer Pantaleo did not initially intend to apply a chokehold, and that he eventually did so for seven seconds after the two men crashed to the ground, Mr. Donoghue said.

Mr. Donoghue also said that Officer Pantaleo had released Mr. Garner from the chokehold before the dying man said “I can’t breathe,” and neither Officer Pantaleo nor the other officers subduing him applied a chokehold after that point. In the end, he said, the video “does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Pantaleo acted willfully.”

Reporting was contributed by Ashley Southall, William K. Rashbaum, John Surico and Derek Norman.


Death eric garner

Eric Garner: NY officer in 'I can't breathe' death fired

The New York City police officer involved in the high-profile 2014 chokehold death of an African-American man has been fired.

Daniel Pantaleo was sacked over the death of Eric Garner, whose dying words "I can't breathe" became a rallying cry for protests against police brutality.

A state grand jury declined to press criminal charges.

After a lengthy civil rights investigation, federal prosecutors said last month they would bring no charges.

The decision, based on the recommendation of a police department disciplinary judge, was announced by New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill on Monday. Mr Pantaleo was suspended while awaiting the commissioner's decision.

In explaining his decision, Mr O'Neill said mobile phone video of Garner's death clearly shows the officer used a chokehold, which is banned by the New York Police Department (NYPD).

"It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer serve as a New York City police officer," Mr O'Neill said.

"Had I been in Officer Pantaleo's situation, I may have made similar mistakes," he continued.

"None of us can take back our decisions," he said, adding: "Especially when they lead to the death of another human being."

Mr Pantaleo's lawyer said he would appeal against the commissioner's decision to fire him.

What happened to Eric Garner?

Garner was arrested on suspicion of illegally selling loose cigarettes on 17 July, 2014.

In video of the arrest recorded by a bystander, Mr Pantaleo, who is white, is seen with his arm wrapped around Garner's neck as they struggled on a street in the city's Staten Island borough.

The officer's lawyer contends his client used approved tactics to arrest Garner, but earlier this month NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado ruled that Mr Pantaleo had used a chokehold - which is banned by the police department.

As the officers continued to restrain Garner, the asthmatic was heard repeatedly saying: "I can't breathe."

Image source, NY Daily News

Mr O'Neill said Mr Pantaleo's decision to maintain the chokehold on the ground is what led to his firing.

The 43-year-old father of six, who weighed more than 350lb (160kg), appeared to lose consciousness and later was pronounced dead in hospital.

A city medical examiner ruled the chokehold contributed to Garner's death.

In 2015, the city of New York reached a settlement with the family for $5.9m (£4.8m) after they brought a wrongful-death lawsuit arguing that Garner was not given sufficient medical aid by emergency officials.

What's the reaction?

New York Attorney General Letitia James said Mr Pantaleo's sacking would bring justice to Garner's family.

"While we will never be able to change the events that transpired or bring Mr Garner back, today, some semblance of justice is finally being served," she said.

Eric Garner's daughter, Emerald Garner, thanked Commissioner O'Neill for firing Mr Pantaleo.

Wearing a T-shirt with the word "MURDERER" on the front, she vowed her family would still pursue action against the other officers involved and fight to legally ban the chokehold blamed for her father's death.

The president of the police union, Patrick Lynch, pilloried NYPD as "rudderless and frozen".

"The leadership has abandoned and left our police officers on the street without backing," said Mr Lynch.

Civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton said: "It is a day that's five years too late."

He added: "This is not some moment of pleasure or joy for the family that has lost so much."

"Today we have finally seen justice done," said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who came under fire for his administration's handling of the case.

He added: "We can react with bitterness and division and be trapped by the sins of our past, or we can transform the suffering into progress, we can find redemption."

The firing comes as California enacts one of the strictest laws limiting police force in the US.

On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 392 - which is intended to reduce police shootings.

The bill says that officers can only use deadly force when "necessary" to prevent imminent death or serious injury, rather than when "reasonable" as current laws state.

More on this story

No indictment for officer in NYC chokehold death

Eric Garner's family commemorates his death as judge allows litigation against police and city officials

"Seven years ago today, my son was murdered," Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, said at the event on Staten Island.
Garner died after he was put in an unauthorized chokehold by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17, 2014. Video of Garner crying out "I can't breathe" during the encounter sparked protests across the US. Those last words have become a rallying cry used in demonstrations across the country over the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. The same words were used by George Floyd, a Black man who died last year after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck.
Carr said Saturday she's reliving her son's death "but, I'm coming to grips with it by fighting for him," she told CNN affiliate WCBS. "We're still going to court about it and we're still trying to get the officers to stand accountable -- the ones who were responsible for my son's death that day."
Pantaleo was never charged in Garner's death, but was fired in August 2019 after an administrative judge overseeing a police department disciplinary trial found him guilty of using a chokehold on Garner.
Garner's daughter Legacy and her mother, Jewel Miller, were also in attendance at Saturday's event. "This is the same as seven years ago. No justice has been served at all," Miller told WCBS. "We've got a lot of streets named after us, to kind of 'be quiets,' but no justice has been served at all."
On Thursday, an appellate court judge decided to allow Garner's family to question "violations and neglect of duty" by the NYPD and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration in connection with Garner's death.
"We find that this is the rare case in which allegations of significant violations of duty, coupled with a serious lack of substantial investigation and public explanation, warrant a summary inquiry to bring transparency to a matter of profound public importance: the death of an unarmed civilian during the course of an arrest," Appellate Division Judge Anil C. Singh wrote in his decision on the matter.
The decision sets up a judicial inquiry, which will begin on October 25 in the New York State Supreme Court, according to attorneys for the Garner family.
The judicial inquiry will investigate alleged violations and neglect of duties by de Blasio, former NYPD Commissioner James P. O'Neill, and other New York officials regarding, "the killing of Mr. Garner, failure to conduct thorough investigations and discipline for misconduct, and the related cover-up," according to a press release from the attorney for the Garner family, Gideon Oliver.
CNN has reached out to de Blasio's office for comment, as well as O'Neill, Fire Department Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro, and the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner in charge of the Department Advocate's Office, Kevin Richardson.
The NYPD deferred to a statement from the city's law department.
"So much information about this incident has been made publicly available and there is no evidence that the Mayor or any other senior City official neglected their duties or violated the law," a New York City Law Department spokesperson told CNN.
"The Court acknowledged that summary inquiries should remain exceedingly rare, but concluded that this one is exceptional and should go forward. We are reviewing our options," the spokesperson said.
Pantaleo's disciplinary records were released in June 2020, revealing that he had seven misconduct cases investigated against him before Garner's death.
The release of the records came after the New York State legislature repealed a law known as 50-a, which shielded police disciplinary records from being viewed by the public for years.
"I'm so glad for the transparency," Carr told CNN at the time. "I just think going forward we shouldn't have to fight and wait five years to get the disciplinary records of the police officers who recklessly kill."

Garner's last words become a rallying cry

Garner's death happened just weeks before the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, bringing the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront as much of the nation called for police accountability.
Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, was allegedly selling loose cigarettes illegally on Staten Island when police attempted to arrest him.
In video of the arrest, Pantaleo can be seen wrapping one arm around Garner's shoulder and the other around his neck before jerking him back and pulling him to the ground.
As Pantaleo forces Garner's head into the sidewalk, Garner could be heard saying, "I can't breathe. I can't breathe." He died shortly afterward.
The departmental disciplinary trial focused on whether the chokehold Pantaleo used was banned by the department.
Pantaleo denied that he used the maneuver, but Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado ruled that a chokehold triggered a series of events that culminated with Garner's death, according to her report, which CNN obtained.
"Here, (Pantaleo's) use of a chokehold fell so far short of objective reasonableness that this tribunal found it to be reckless -- a gross deviation from the standard of conduct established for a New York City police officer," Maldonado wrote. "Moreover, (Pantaleo's) glaring dereliction of responsibility precipitated a tragic outcome."

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Killing of Eric Garner

July 2014 death of an African American man after an arrest by police officers in New York

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was killed in the New York City borough of Staten Island after Daniel Pantaleo, a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer, put him in a prohibited chokehold while arresting him.[3][4] Video footage of the incident generated widespread national attention and raised questions about the use of force by law enforcement.[5]

NYPD officers approached Garner on July 17 on suspicion of selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. After Garner told the police that he was tired of being harassed and that he was not selling cigarettes, the officers attempted to arrest Garner. When Pantaleo placed his hands on Garner, Garner pulled his arms away. Pantaleo then placed his arm around Garner's neck and wrestled him to the ground. With multiple officers pinning him down, Garner repeated the words "I can't breathe" 11 times while lying face down on the sidewalk. After Garner lost consciousness, he remained lying on the sidewalk for seven minutes while the officers waited for an ambulance to arrive. Garner was pronounced dead at an area hospital approximately one hour later.

The medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide. According to the medical examiner's definition, a homicide is a death caused by the intentional actions of another person or persons. Specifically, an autopsy indicated that Garner's death resulted from "[compression] of neck, compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police".[2]Asthma, heart disease, and obesity were cited as contributing factors.[6]

On December 4, 2014, a Richmond Countygrand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo. This decision stirred public protests and rallies, with charges of police brutality made by protesters. By December 28, 2014, at least 50 demonstrations had been held nationwide in response to the Garner case, while hundreds of demonstrations against general police brutality counted Garner as a focal point. On July 13, 2015, an out-of-court settlement was reached, under which the City of New York would pay the Garner family $5.9 million. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to bring criminal charges against Pantaleo under federal civil rights laws. A New York Police Department disciplinary hearing regarding Pantaleo's treatment of Garner was held in the summer of 2019; on August 2, 2019, an administrative judge recommended that Pantaleo's employment be terminated.[7] Pantaleo was fired on August 19, 2019, more than five years after Garner's death.[8]

People involved[edit]

Eric Garner[edit]

Eric Garner (September 15, 1970 – July 17, 2014) was an African-American man.[9] He was a horticulturist at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation before quitting for health reasons.[10] Garner, who was married to Esaw Garner,[11] has been described by his friends as a "neighborhood peacemaker" and as a generous, congenial person.[12] He was the father of six children, had three grandchildren,[10] and at the time of his death had a 3-month-old child.[13]

Garner had been arrested by the NYPD more than 30 times since 1980 on charges such as assault, resisting arrest, and grand larceny.[14][15] According to an article in The New York Times many of these arrests had been for allegedly selling unlicensed cigarettes.[16] In 2007, he filed a handwritten complaint[17] in federal court accusing a police officer of conducting a cavity search of him on the street, "digging his fingers in my rectum in the middle of the street" while people passed by.[10] Garner had, according to The New York Times, "recently ... told lawyers at Legal Aid that he intended to take all the cases against him to trial".[10] At the time of the incident, he was out on bail for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, driving without a license, marijuana possession, and false personation.[18]

Daniel Pantaleo[edit]

At the time of Garner's death, Daniel Pantaleo was a 29-year-old New York City Police Department officer living in Eltingville, Staten Island.[19] He joined the NYPD in 2006 after graduating from Monsignor Farrell High School, and with a bachelor's degree from the College of Staten Island. Pantaleo was the subject of two civil rights lawsuits in 2013 where plaintiffs accused him of falsely arresting them and abusing them. In one of the cases, he and other officers allegedly ordered two black men to strip naked on the street for a search and the charges against the men were dismissed.[20][21][22][23]

Ramsey Orta[edit]

Main article: Ramsey Orta

Ramsey Orta is a member of Copwatch in New York City who filmed the incident.[24][failed verification] Following a campaign of alleged police harassment after the video went viral,[25][26][27][28] he was arrested on weapons charges.[25]Al Sharpton made a statement that prosecuting Orta while also calling him as a witness could constitute a conflict of interest.[25]

In February 2015, Orta was incarcerated on Rikers Island. In March 2015, a lockdown was initiated, and Orta was not permitted to prepare his own food. The prisoners were served meatloaf by the prison officers. After falling ill multiple times after eating food on Rikers, Orta believed he had been deliberately poisoned. Orta describes that the other prisoners fell ill, vomiting blood, but the guards reportedly laughed and no prisoners were brought to the infirmary. Court documents stated that the prisoners had suffered from various ailments after eating the food. Blue-green pellets were found in the meatloaf, and determined to be brodifacoum, the main ingredient of rat poison.[29] As a result, Orta stopped eating the prison food, only taking food passed to him from his visiting wife. Orta has alleged that prison officers booked him on false or trivial offences in a biased manner, resulting in him not being able to receive food from his wife. Orta also claimed that the prison officers have threatened him, insulted him, beaten him, and deliberately crushed the food from Orta's wife. Orta stated that when he was initially arrested, a police officer told him it would be better for Orta to kill himself before he was jailed.[29]

After prosecutors questioned whether the money raised for his bail was crowd-sourced legally, Orta was released on bail on April 10, 2015.[26][28]

In 2016, he was sentenced to four years in prison for weapons and drug charges after accepting a plea deal for which the prosecutor agreed to drop charges against his mother.[30][31][29][32] In May 2020, he was released from Groveland Correctional Facility.[33][5][34] His release was in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.[35]

Events of July 17, 2014[edit]

On July 17, 2014, at approximately 3:30 p.m., Garner was approached by a plainclothes police officer, Justin D'Amico, in front of a beauty supply store at 202 Bay Street in Tompkinsville, Staten Island. According to bystanders (including a friend of Garner, Ramsey Orta, who recorded the incident on his cell phone[25][37][24]) Garner had just broken up a fight, which may have drawn the attention of the police.[38] Officers confronted Garner and accused him of selling "loosies" (single cigarettes without a tax stamp) in violation of New York state law.[39][40] Garner is heard on the video saying the following:

Get away [garbled] for what? Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I'm tired of it. It stops today. Why would you...? Everyone standing here will tell you I didn't do nothing. I did not sell nothing. Because every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me [garbled] selling cigarettes. I'm minding my business, officer, I'm minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone.[41]

When Pantaleo approached Garner from behind and attempted to handcuff him, Garner pulled his arms away, saying, "Don't touch me, please."[42] Pantaleo then placed his arm around Garner's neck[43] and pulled him backward in an attempt to bring him to the ground;[44] in the process, Pantaleo and Garner slammed into a glass window, which did not break.[10] Garner went to his knees and forearms and did not say anything for a few seconds. At that point, three uniformed officers and the two plainclothes officers had surrounded him.[10] After 15 seconds,[45] the video shows Pantaleo removing his arm from around Garner's neck; Pantaleo then used his hands to push Garner's face[44] into the sidewalk while pinning him down..[46] Garner is heard saying "I can't breathe" eleven times while lying face down on the sidewalk.[47] The arrest was supervised by a female African-American NYPD sergeant, Kizzy Adonis, who did not intercede.[48] Adonis was quoted in the original police report as stating, "The perpetrator's condition did not seem serious and he did not appear to get worse."[49]

A police sergeant called an ambulance and indicated that Mr. Garner was having trouble breathing, but reportedly added that he "did not appear to be in great distress".[50] Garner lay motionless, handcuffed, and unresponsive for several minutes before an ambulance arrived, as shown in a second video.[51][52] After Garner lost consciousness, officers turned him onto his side to ease his breathing.[53] Garner remained lying on the sidewalk for seven minutes.[54] When an ambulance arrived, EMTs checked his pulse but did little else for about two minutes before lifting him onto a stretcher.[55] According to police, Garner had a heart attack while being transported to Richmond University Medical Center.[56] He was pronounced dead at the hospital one hour later.[57]

A funeral was held for Garner on July 23, 2014, at Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn. At the funeral, Al Sharpton gave a speech calling for harsher punitive measures to be taken against the officers responsible for the incident.[58]

Immediate aftermath[edit]

On July 20, Pantaleo was put on desk duty and stripped of his service handgun and badge.[59] Justin D'Amico was allowed to keep his badge and handgun, but was also placed on desk duty.[60] Four of the EMTs and paramedics who took Garner to the hospital were suspended on July 21.[46] Two of the paramedics were soon returned to their duties, and the remaining two EMTs were doing non-medical work at the hospital pending the Richmond University Medical Center's own investigation into the incident.[61][62]

Medical examiner's report and autopsy[edit]

On August 1, 2014, the New York City Medical Examiner's Office ruled Garner's death a homicide.[63] According to the medical examiner's definition, a homicide is a death caused by the intentional actions of another person or persons, which is not necessarily an intentional death or a criminal death.[63]

Garner's death was also found by the medical examiner to have resulted from "compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police".[2][6][64] Asthma and heart disease were cited as contributing factors.[65] Prior to that, on July 19, 2014, The New York Post published a report, citing unnamed sources, claiming the medical examiner had found no damage to Garner's "windpipe or neckbones" during a preliminary autopsy.[66]

Garner's family hired Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner, to perform an independent autopsy.[67][68] Baden agreed with the findings of the Medical Examiner's Office and concluded that Garner's death was primarily caused by "compression of the neck". Baden reported finding hemorrhaging around Garner's neck, which was indicative of neck compression.[68]

Pantaleo's union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, noted that Garner's hyoid bone was not fractured. Barbara Sampson, the New York City medical examiner, said that "It is false that crushing of the windpipe and fracture of the hyoid bone would necessarily be seen at autopsy as the result of a chokehold."[69]


Sharpton organized a protest in Staten Island on the afternoon of July 19; he condemned the use of a chokehold on Garner, saying that "there is no justification" for it.[70]

On July 28, a protest organized by WalkRunFly Productions and poet Daniel J. Watts was held in Times Square. The protest was in the form of poetry and many Broadway entertainers participated in the event.[71] Al Sharpton originally planned to lead a protest on August 23 in which participants would drive over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, then travel to the site of the altercation and the office of District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan, Jr.[72] This idea was scrapped in favor of Sharpton's leading a march along Bay Street in Staten Island, where Garner died; police estimated that over 2,500 people participated in the march.[73][74]

In March 2015, Assata's Daughters, a Chicago-based black activist group, formed because they saw a lack of response by public officials to Eric Garner's death.[75]

Grand jury[edit]

Grand jury deliberation[edit]

On August 19, Richmond County (Staten Island) District AttorneyDaniel M. Donovan, Jr. brought against Pantaleo to a grand jury, saying that after considering the medical examiner's findings, his office decided "it is appropriate to present evidence regarding circumstances of his death to a Richmond County Grand Jury."[76] On September 29, the grand jury began hearing evidence in the Garner case.[76] On November 21, Pantaleo testified before the grand jury for about two hours.[76] After considering the case for two months, the grand jury decided on December 3 not to indict Pantaleo.[76][47]

Under New York law, most of the grand jury proceedings were kept secret, including the exact charges sought by the prosecutor, the autopsy report, and transcripts of testimony. Attempts by the New York Civil Liberties Union and others to gain release of that information have been unsuccessful.[77]


See also: Black Lives Matter protests in New York City


Chicago protesters protesting the Staten Island grand jury's decision, December 4, 2014

After the Staten Island grand jury did not indict Pantaleo on December 3, citizens in New York City and San Francisco gathered in protest, demonstrating with several die-ins,[78][79] making speeches and rallies against the lack of indictment.[51] On December 5, thousands gathered in protest on the Boston Common in Boston, and then marched in the downtown area, blocking traffic, especially on I-90, in addition to staging "die-ins."[80] Protests also occurred in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Atlanta.[81][82] At least 300 people were arrested at the New York City protests on December 4 and 5, most of them for charges of disorderly conduct or refusal to clear the streets, but two for assault on a police officer.[83][84] On December 6, 300 protesters marched in Berkeley, California as well.[85][86] On December 10, 76 protesters were arrested at Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush in west London, England, during a rally to show solidarity with rallies in the United States.[87] Protesters have made use of Garner's last words, "I can't breathe", as a slogan and chant against police brutality since Garner's death and Pantaleo's grand jury decision.[88][89] By December 28, at least 50 protests in support of Garner had occurred globally, and many other Black Lives Matter-related demonstrations had occurred.[90]

Counter-protests were also launched in support of police, specifically for the NYPD. On December 19, during a New York City protest about the grand jury decision, supporters of the NYPD held a counter-demonstration, wearing shirts with the phrase, "I can breathe, thanks to the NYPD", on them, holding signs with phrases like "Bluelivesmatter", and chanting, "Don't resist arrest."[91]

On December 20, two NYPD officers were killed in an ambush in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The suspected gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, cited Garner's death at the hands of police (as well as that of Michael Brown) as reasons to kill police officers.[92] Brinsley then entered the New York City Subway and committed suicide.[93][94]

Garner's death has been cited as one of several police killings of African Americans protested by the Black Lives Matter movement.[95][96][97][98]


As a result of Garner's death, Police Commissioner William Bratton ordered an extensive review of the NYPD's training procedures, specifically focusing on the appropriate amount of force that can be used while detaining a suspect.[99] Patrick Lynch, leader of the police union Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, challenged the claim that a chokehold was used, further stating that the union would be able to find many use-of-force experts who would also challenge the claim that a chokehold was used.[100] Lynch also attributed Garner's death to resisting arrest and, "a lack of the respect for law enforcement, resulting from the slanderous, insulting, and unjust manner in which police officers are being portrayed."[101][102] Edward D. Mullins, the head of the union representing police sergeants, called on members not to slow down police response across the city by supervising every arrest. He also commented saying that the use of the term "chokehold" by the chief medical examiner's office was political.[100] Police union officials and Pantaleo's lawyer argued that Pantaleo did not use the chokehold, but instead used a NYPD-taught takedown move because Garner was resisting arrest.[47] Police also defended the decision not to perform CPR on Garner on the grounds that he was still breathing on his own.[103][104][105]

An Indiana police officer sold T-shirts saying "Breathe Easy. Don't Break the Law."[106] A veteran San Jose Police Officer, Phillip White, tweeted: "Threaten me or my family and I will use my God given and law appointed right and duty to kill you. #CopsLivesMatter," which sparked controversy.[107]


In an interview with CNN, Garner's daughter Erica felt that it was pride and not racism that led to the officer choking her father. Erica held a vigil and "die-in" on December 11, 2014, on Staten Island in memory of her father, near where he died.[108] On her Twitter account, she vowed to continue to lead protests in Staten Island twice a week, lying down in the spot where her father collapsed and died.[109][110] Erica Garner died on December 30, 2017, after suffering a heart attack at the age of 27.[111]

One of Garner's daughters, Emerald Snipes, created a fund for his kids for Christmas, as Garner used to play Santa Claus.[112] Garner's daughters Erica and Emerald, his widow Esaw, and his stepfather Ben Carr all went to the Justice for All March in Washington, D.C.[113]

After the grand jury decision, when asked whether she accepted Pantaleo's condolences, Garner's widow angrily answered, "Hell, no! The time for remorse would have been when my husband was yelling to breathe." She added, "No, I don't accept his apology. No, I could care less about his condolences ... He's still working. He's still getting a paycheck. He's still feeding his kids, when my husband is six feet under and I'm looking for a way to feed my kids now."[114]

Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, expressed surprise and disappointment at the grand jury decision.[114][115]


New York City MayorBill de Blasio called Garner's death a "terrible tragedy."[116] De Blasio, at a July 31 roundtable meeting in response to the death, convened with police officers and political activists, called upon mutual respect and understanding. On August 1, in a statement, the mayor urged all parties involved to create a dialogue, and find a path "to heal the wounds from decades of mistrust and create a culture where the police department and the communities they protect respect each other."[117][118] Mayor de Blasio has been criticized by activists for not firing the officers involved in Garner's death.[119]

New York GovernorAndrew Cuomo said that New York State should consider appointing a special prosecutor to handle cases of alleged police brutality. He told CNN: "We have a problem. Let's acknowledge it."[120]

U.S. Attorney GeneralEric Holder said that the Department of Justice was "closely monitoring" investigations into Garner's death.[121]

Two U.S. Presidents have expressed thoughts about Garner's death. Barack Obama addressed the grand jury's decision by making a speech, stating that Garner's death and the legal outcome of it is an "American problem".[122] Obama also reacted by saying that Garner's death "speaks to the larger issues" of trust between police and civilians.[123] Former U.S. President George W. Bush said he found the grand jury outcome "hard to understand" and "very sad" in an interview.[124]

Rep.Peter King (R-NY) stated that, if Garner had been healthier, he would not have died after a police officer placed him in a chokehold. "If he had not had asthma, and a heart condition, and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died from this." King added that there "was not a hint" that anyone used any racial epithets, and that if Garner were a "350-pound white guy, he would have been treated the same."[125]


Shady Records recording artist Kxng Crooked aka Crooked I of Slaughterhouse recorded a tribute song for Garner titled "I Can't Breathe". The song was released exclusively through MTV News.[126] Crooked used the same instrumental that was used for 2Pac's "Pain", with additional production added by Jonathan Hay.[127] The cover art features an image of Garner being held in a chokehold by law enforcement officials.[128]

After the grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, professional athletes such as NFL players Reggie Bush, Ryan Davis, Cecil Shorts III, Marqise Lee, Ace Sanders, and Allen Hurns;[129] and NBA players LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Garnett, Derrick Rose, Jarrett Jack, and Deron Williams, wore T-shirts bearing the phrase "I can't breathe" during pregame warmups.[130][131][132] The Phoenix Suns also wore the shirts.[133] President Obama and Attorney General Holder applauded James for wearing the shirt.[134][135]

The Georgetown Universitymen's basketball team wore "I can't breathe" shirts,[136] as did the University of Notre DameWomen's Basketball team.[137]

Realizing that Garner died the same way as Radio Raheem, a character from the film Do the Right Thing, film director Spike Lee also paid tribute to Garner by splicing footage of Garner's death with a clip from the film showing several police officers putting the character in a chokehold.[138][139]

The title of Terence Blanchard's 2015 album Breathless was inspired by Garner's last words ("I can't breathe").[140]

Matt Taibbi wrote the 2017 book I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street.[141]

Civil lawsuit[edit]

In October 2014, Garner's family stated their intent to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of New York, the police department, and several police officers, seeking $75 million in damages.[142] The parties reached a $5.9 million out-of-court settlement on July 13, 2015.[143][144] Garner's widow had previously rejected a $5 million settlement offer.[145]

Department of Justice investigation[edit]

On December 3, 2014, after the grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo, the Department of Justice started an independent investigation.[10][146][147] In January 2015 it was reported that the FBI's New York Field Office was reviewing the incident and events thereafter.[148] The investigation was overseen by local United States Attorney Loretta Lynch until she became the US Attorney General.[149] The local FBI investigators and federal prosecutors determined that charges should not be brought in the case, prompting strong disagreement from attorneys in the Washington, D.C. office of the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.[149] In October 2016, Attorney General Lynch removed the local FBI agents and federal prosecutors from the case, replacing them with agents from outside New York.[149] Lynch's intervention has been called "highly unusual".[149]

In 2017, ThinkProgress obtained anonymously and published Pantaleo's police department disciplinary records, showing that Pantaleo had "seven disciplinary complaints and 14 individual allegations lodged against him. Four of those allegations were substantiated by an independent review board." He was found guilty of one of those fourteen allegations, and was disciplined by the loss of two vacation days.[150][151][152][153]

On July 16, 2019, Attorney General William Barr decided that the officers involved in Garner's death would not face federal charges.[154][155]

Disciplinary hearing and termination of Pantaleo[edit]

An internal affairs inquiry by the NYPD determined that Pantaleo used a chokehold and recommended disciplinary charges.[156] Chokeholds are prohibited by NYPD regulations,[43][157] though are not illegal, unless constituting assault or criminal homicide.[158] In 2015, the Department of Justice asked the NYPD to delay pursuing disciplinary charges pending a federal investigation.[159] On July 16, 2018, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Lawrence Byrne wrote a letter to the Justice Department stating that the NYPD would pursue disciplinary actions against officers involved in Garner's death if the Justice Department did not file charges by the end of August.[160]

During an April 4, 2019, disciplinary hearing Pantaleo's attorneys argued that in an internal report dated December 10, 2014, NYPD Chief Surgeon Eli Kleinman concluded Pantaleo did not use a chokehold on Garner and Garner had suffered no chokehold associated injuries.[67] According to Pantaleo's lawyer, Kleinman found that Garner's pre-existing health conditions contributed to his death.[67] The report was completed at the request of NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau.[67] Kleinman did not personally examine Garner and based his conclusions on a review of two videos of the incident and Garner's autopsy.[67][161]

At a May 2019 disciplinary hearing for Pantaleo, Dr. Floriana Persechino, who performed Garner's autopsy, testified that Pantaleo's use of a chokehold on Garner "set into motion a lethal sequence" that led to a fatal asthma attack.[162][163] However, the examiner conceded that even "a bear hug" could have had the same effect as the chokehold, given that Garner weighed 395 pounds (179 kg), suffered from asthma and diabetes, and had a heart twice the size of a healthy person's heart.[161] Moreover, during the trial at a hearing in June 2019, a defense witness, Dr. Michael Graham, St. Louis, Missouri's chief medical examiner, testified Garner's death couldn't have been caused by a chokehold because, Graham said, Garner was never actually choked or unable to breathe during the arrest.[164][165] Graham attributed Garner's death to heart disease exacerbated by the stress of the arrest.[164][165]

During this same trial, Pantaleo's partner, Justin D'Amico, admitted that he exaggerated Garner's charges. D'Amico claimed Garner had been selling 10,000 untaxed cigarettes, which was a felony. However, Garner had fewer than 100 cigarettes in his possession at the time of his death.[166]

Pantaleo's disciplinary hearing concluded on June 6, 2019.[157] Two months later, it was reported that the administrative judge presiding over the disciplinary hearing recommended to New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill that Pantaleo be fired.[7] According to New York Police Department Administrative Judge Rosemarie Maldonado, video evidence and autopsy results provided "'overwhelming'" evidence that Pantaleo had placed Garner in a chokehold. In her recommendation to the Commissioner, Judge Maldonado found that Pantaleo's "'use of a chokehold fell so far short of objective reasonableness that this tribunal found it to be reckless — a gross deviation from the standard of conduct established for a New York City police officer.'"[167]

On August 19, 2019, O'Neill terminated Pantaleo's employment with the New York Police Department,[8] stating that it would not be possible for Pantaleo to serve effectively,[167] and that Pantaleo's decision to maintain the chokehold on the ground is what led to his firing.[168] Pantaleo's attorney, Stuart London, told reporters that his client planned to sue in state court for his reinstatement.[8]

State legislation[edit]

On June 8, 2020, both houses of the New York state assembly passed the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, which stipulates that any police officer in the state of New York who injures or kills somebody through the use of "a chokehold or similar restraint" can be charged with a class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.[169] New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the police reforms, which he described as "long overdue", into law on June 12, 2020.[170][169]

Popular culture[edit]

The single Loyal Like Sid & Nancy by Foster the People, released in 2017, includes the lyric "I can't breathe" and is partly a commentary about Garner's killing and Black Lives Matter.[171]

In 2018, a crime-drama film was released under the title of Monsters and Men, whose main plotline depicts the death of a cigarette-selling black man at the hands of the police being filmed by an onlooker and grabbing wide attention upon release. Being inspired by a real story, and given the striking similarity with the incident, multiple film reviews considered the movie to be based on the death of Eric Garner.[172][173][174]

See also[edit]


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