By David Brand
An administrative judge recommended firing NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo Friday, more than five years after Pantaleo administered a chokehold that led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill will determine whether to accept the judge’s recommendation, soften Pantaleo’s punishment or reject any penalty.
Judge Rosemarie Maldonado, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of trials, made her recommendation nearly two months after the Civilian Complaint Review Board wrapped up its case against Pantaleo, who they accused of using excessive force when he choked Garner and dragged him to the ground. Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe,” were captured on cellphone video and became a rallying cry movement to stop over-policing and police brutality against people of color.
A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in 2014 and the Department of Justice decided to drop a case against Pantaleo last month. That left the CCRB, the independent agency that handles claims of NYPD officer abuse and misconduct, as the last hope for Garner’s family to achieve some sense of justice.
“Today, for the first time in these long five years, the system of justice is working,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at a City Hall press conference that was briefly interrupted by demonstrators shouting “Fire Pantaleo.”
De Blasio contends that the mayor does not have the power to fire an NYPD officer. He said Friday that he had not yet spoken with O’Neill since the judge’s determination. He declined to discuss many details of the case or to give his personal opinion, instead stating that he respected the “fair and impartial process.”
Councilmember Donovan Richards, chair of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety, was more forthcoming.
“It’s time to do what should have been done five years ago: Fire Pantaleo,” Richards said.
Maldonado’s decision, he said, “only affirms what millions of New Yorkers have known since we all watched Eric Garner die in the hands of the NYPD.”
“The Commissioner must send a clear message to the nation that the NYPD will not tolerate excessive force that leads to the death of an unarmed and nonviolent citizen of our city,” he continued.
Garner’s mother Gwen Carr has been a powerful advocate for police accountability and has called for the prosecution of Pantaleo and other officers at the scene since her son’s death. She declined to comment when contacted Friday, citing the recent death of her husband Ben Carr.
“I’m not in a good place right now,” she said.
Pantaleo has an opportunity to challenge the judge’s decision. In the meantime, he will remain suspended for 30 days without pay. Patrolmen Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said firing Pantaleo would “paralyze the NYPD for years to come.”
But CCRB chairperson Fred Davie urged O’Neill to accept Maldonado’s recommendation to fire Pantaleo.
“The evidence the CCRB’s prosecutors brought forth at trial was more than sufficient to prove that Pantaleo is unfit to serve,” Davie said. “Commissioner O’Neill must uphold this verdict and dismiss Pantaleo from the Department, as was recommended by both the CCRB and the Deputy Commissioner of Trials.”