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Judge recommends that NYPD cop in chokehold death of unarmed black man be fired

Published:Saturday | August 3, 2019 | 9:49 AM
Daniel Pantaleo
Patrick Lynch

NEW YORK (AP) — An administrative judge has recommended that New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo be fired over the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man.

Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe”, fuelled a national debate in the United States over policing policies, race and the use of force.

Commissioner of the New York City Police Department James O’Neil will make a final decision later this month on whether to fire Pantaleo, who is white.

Pantaleo, who had been on modified duty, was suspended shortly after the judge’s decision became public.

Two weeks ago federal prosecutors announced they would not file criminal charges against him.

Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio hailed the judge’s report as “a step toward justice and accountability”, while Pantaleo’s lawyer and a union leader said it “penalised an officer for properly doing his job”.

The attorney said he will appeal to state court if Pantaleo is fired.

Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said the judge’s report brought her “some relief”, but was overdue and fell short of true accountability.

“Its past time for Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD to end their obstruction, stop spreading misleading talking points and finally take action for my son,” she said in a statement.

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

Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

When a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on state charges in December 2014, demonstrations flared in New York and several other cities.

Yesterday, dozens of protesters gathered in front of police headquarters, demanding that Pantaleo be fired.

The administrative judge’s findings were provided Friday to Pantaleo’s lawyer and the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the watchdog agency that acted as a prosecutor at his department trial last spring.

Under department rules, Pantaleo’s lawyer will have about two weeks to respond before O’Neill makes his decision.

The attorney, Stuart London, said Pantaleo, 33, was disappointed in the judge’s recommendation but remains “cautiously optimistic” he ultimately won’t be dismissed.

London and Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch urged O’Neill to stand up for Pantaleo, saying he did nothing wrong and that firing him would leave officers feeling they cannot do their jobs without losing them.

“We’re calling on Commissioner O’Neill to save the New York Police Department. Allow us to be effective again,” Lynch said.

Lynch said that, given the decision, police officers might be considered reckless every time they put their hands on someone.

He urged officers to keep responding to 911 calls but “take it a step slower” and call for a supervisor instead of using physical force on an uncooperative suspect.

The administrative judge, Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, was tasked with deciding whether Pantaleo used a chokehold — banned by police department policy — to take Garner to the ground during a confrontation on a Staten Island street.

Pantaleo’s lawyers argued that his client used an approved “seat belt” technique to subdue Garner, who refused to be handcuffed after officers accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes.

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