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.
Daniel Pantaleo, officer fired in Eric Garner's death, loses lawsuit to get job back
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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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.
[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.
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.”
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."
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.
Eric Garner's family commemorates his death as judge allows litigation against police and city officials
Garner's last words become a rallying cry
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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. Video footage of the incident generated widespread national attention and raised questions about the use of force by law enforcement.
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".Asthma, heart disease, and obesity were cited as contributing factors.
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. Pantaleo was fired on August 19, 2019, more than five years after Garner's death.
Eric Garner (September 15, 1970 – July 17, 2014) was an African-American man. He was a horticulturist at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation before quitting for health reasons. Garner, who was married to Esaw Garner, has been described by his friends as a "neighborhood peacemaker" and as a generous, congenial person. He was the father of six children, had three grandchildren, and at the time of his death had a 3-month-old child.
Garner had been arrested by the NYPD more than 30 times since 1980 on charges such as assault, resisting arrest, and grand larceny. According to an article in The New York Times many of these arrests had been for allegedly selling unlicensed cigarettes. In 2007, he filed a handwritten complaint 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. 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". 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.
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. 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.
Main article: Ramsey Orta
Ramsey Orta is a member of Copwatch in New York City who filmed the incident.[failed verification] Following a campaign of alleged police harassment after the video went viral, he was arrested on weapons charges.Al Sharpton made a statement that prosecuting Orta while also calling him as a witness could constitute a conflict of interest.
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. 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.
After prosecutors questioned whether the money raised for his bail was crowd-sourced legally, Orta was released on bail on April 10, 2015.
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. In May 2020, he was released from Groveland Correctional Facility. His release was in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Events of July 17, 2014
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) Garner had just broken up a fight, which may have drawn the attention of the police. Officers confronted Garner and accused him of selling "loosies" (single cigarettes without a tax stamp) in violation of New York state law. 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.
When Pantaleo approached Garner from behind and attempted to handcuff him, Garner pulled his arms away, saying, "Don't touch me, please." Pantaleo then placed his arm around Garner's neck and pulled him backward in an attempt to bring him to the ground; in the process, Pantaleo and Garner slammed into a glass window, which did not break. 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. After 15 seconds, the video shows Pantaleo removing his arm from around Garner's neck; Pantaleo then used his hands to push Garner's face into the sidewalk while pinning him down.. Garner is heard saying "I can't breathe" eleven times while lying face down on the sidewalk. The arrest was supervised by a female African-American NYPD sergeant, Kizzy Adonis, who did not intercede. 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."
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". Garner lay motionless, handcuffed, and unresponsive for several minutes before an ambulance arrived, as shown in a second video. After Garner lost consciousness, officers turned him onto his side to ease his breathing. Garner remained lying on the sidewalk for seven minutes. When an ambulance arrived, EMTs checked his pulse but did little else for about two minutes before lifting him onto a stretcher. According to police, Garner had a heart attack while being transported to Richmond University Medical Center. He was pronounced dead at the hospital one hour later.
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.
On July 20, Pantaleo was put on desk duty and stripped of his service handgun and badge. Justin D'Amico was allowed to keep his badge and handgun, but was also placed on desk duty. Four of the EMTs and paramedics who took Garner to the hospital were suspended on July 21. 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.
Medical examiner's report and autopsy
On August 1, 2014, the New York City Medical Examiner's Office 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, which is not necessarily an intentional death or a criminal death.
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". Asthma and heart disease were cited as contributing factors. 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.
Garner's family hired Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner, to perform an independent autopsy. 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.
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."
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
Grand jury deliberation
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." On September 29, the grand jury began hearing evidence in the Garner case. On November 21, Pantaleo testified before the grand jury for about two hours. After considering the case for two months, the grand jury decided on December 3 not to indict Pantaleo.
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.
See also: Black Lives Matter protests in New York City
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, making speeches and rallies against the lack of indictment. 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." Protests also occurred in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Atlanta. 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. On December 6, 300 protesters marched in Berkeley, California as well. 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. 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. By December 28, at least 50 protests in support of Garner had occurred globally, and many other Black Lives Matter-related demonstrations had occurred.
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."
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. Brinsley then entered the New York City Subway and committed suicide.
Garner's death has been cited as one of several police killings of African Americans protested by the Black Lives Matter movement.
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. 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. 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." 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. 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. Police also defended the decision not to perform CPR on Garner on the grounds that he was still breathing on his own.
An Indiana police officer sold T-shirts saying "Breathe Easy. Don't Break the Law." 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.
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. 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. Erica Garner died on December 30, 2017, after suffering a heart attack at the age of 27.
One of Garner's daughters, Emerald Snipes, created a fund for his kids for Christmas, as Garner used to play Santa Claus. 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.
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."
Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, expressed surprise and disappointment at the grand jury decision.
New York City MayorBill de Blasio called Garner's death a "terrible tragedy." 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." Mayor de Blasio has been criticized by activists for not firing the officers involved in Garner's death.
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."
U.S. Attorney GeneralEric Holder said that the Department of Justice was "closely monitoring" investigations into Garner's death.
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". Obama also reacted by saying that Garner's death "speaks to the larger issues" of trust between police and civilians. Former U.S. President George W. Bush said he found the grand jury outcome "hard to understand" and "very sad" in an interview.
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."
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. Crooked used the same instrumental that was used for 2Pac's "Pain", with additional production added by Jonathan Hay. The cover art features an image of Garner being held in a chokehold by law enforcement officials.
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; 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. The Phoenix Suns also wore the shirts. President Obama and Attorney General Holder applauded James for wearing the shirt.
The Georgetown Universitymen's basketball team wore "I can't breathe" shirts, as did the University of Notre DameWomen's Basketball team.
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.
The title of Terence Blanchard's 2015 album Breathless was inspired by Garner's last words ("I can't breathe").
Matt Taibbi wrote the 2017 book I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street.
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. The parties reached a $5.9 million out-of-court settlement on July 13, 2015. Garner's widow had previously rejected a $5 million settlement offer.
Department of Justice investigation
On December 3, 2014, after the grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo, the Department of Justice started an independent investigation. In January 2015 it was reported that the FBI's New York Field Office was reviewing the incident and events thereafter. The investigation was overseen by local United States Attorney Loretta Lynch until she became the US Attorney General. 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. 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. Lynch's intervention has been called "highly unusual".
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.
On July 16, 2019, Attorney General William Barr decided that the officers involved in Garner's death would not face federal charges.
Disciplinary hearing and termination of Pantaleo
An internal affairs inquiry by the NYPD determined that Pantaleo used a chokehold and recommended disciplinary charges. Chokeholds are prohibited by NYPD regulations, though are not illegal, unless constituting assault or criminal homicide. In 2015, the Department of Justice asked the NYPD to delay pursuing disciplinary charges pending a federal investigation. 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.
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. According to Pantaleo's lawyer, Kleinman found that Garner's pre-existing health conditions contributed to his death. The report was completed at the request of NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau. Kleinman did not personally examine Garner and based his conclusions on a review of two videos of the incident and Garner's autopsy.
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. 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. 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. Graham attributed Garner's death to heart disease exacerbated by the stress of the arrest.
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.
Pantaleo's disciplinary hearing concluded on June 6, 2019. 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. 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.'"
On August 19, 2019, O'Neill terminated Pantaleo's employment with the New York Police Department, stating that it would not be possible for Pantaleo to serve effectively, and that Pantaleo's decision to maintain the chokehold on the ground is what led to his firing. Pantaleo's attorney, Stuart London, told reporters that his client planned to sue in state court for his reinstatement.
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. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the police reforms, which he described as "long overdue", into law on June 12, 2020.
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.
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.
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