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NYPD fires officer involved in Eric Garner's 2014 death

Key Points
  • The New York City police officer who used a chokehold on Eric Garner in an encounter that ended with Garner's death has been fired, New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill announced Monday.
  • Daniel Pantaleo, 34, was fired about two weeks after a police judge recommended that the officer be terminated over his use of the chokehold, a move that is prohibited under NYPD rules.
  • O'Neill announced Monday at a media gathering at police headquarters that Pantaleo "can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer."
New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner James P. O'Neill speaks at a news conference at Police Headquarters in New York, August 19, 2019.
Eduardo Munoz | Reuters

The New York City police officer who used a chokehold on Eric Garner in a 2014 encounter that ended with Garner's death has been fired, New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill announced Monday.

Daniel Pantaleo, 34, was fired about two weeks after a police judge recommended that the officer be terminated over his use of the chokehold, a move that is prohibited under NYPD rules. A Staten Island grand jury in 2014 had decided not to indict Pantaleo.

O'Neill announced Monday at a media gathering at police headquarters that Pantaleo "can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer."

New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo leaves his house May 13, 2019, in Staten Island, N.Y.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | AP

On July 17, 2014, Garner, a 43-year-old black man, was approached by an officer who accused him of illegally selling loose cigarettes outside of a Staten Island storefront. Garner pulled away from an initial attempt to arrest him, and Pantaleo then wrapped his arm around Garner's neck from behind.

Pantaleo kept Garner in a chokehold after Garner fell to the ground; Garner's last words, "I can't breathe," were captured on video and later became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement.

O'Neill appeared mournful in his remarks and his demeanor.

"I can tell you that had I been in Officer Pantaleo's situation, I may have made similar mistakes," he said.

"Every time I watch that video, I say to myself, as probably all of you do — to Mr. Garner: 'Don't do it. Comply.' To Mr. Pantaleo: 'Don't do it.'"

Garner, the commissioner said, "should have decided against resisting arrest. But a man with a family lost his life, and that is an irreversible tragedy."

"And a hardworking police officer, a man who took this job to do good, to make a difference in his home community, has now lost his chosen career. And that is a different kind of tragedy," O'Neill said.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement that Pantaleo's removal offers "some semblance of justice":

"For over five years, the Garner family and communities across the country have waited for justice in the death of Eric Garner. 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. In memory of Eric Garner and the countless others who have unjustly lost their lives, we will continue to fight for reforms to fix our broken criminal justice system and ensure that all of our communities feel safe."

Later Monday, Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network civil rights organization, said that firing Pantaleo was the right move — but it came "five years too late," he said.

"Today, Daniel Pantaleo lost his job. But five years ago, Eric Garner lost his life," Sharpton said, as Garner's family members stood alongside him.

"This is not some moment of pleasure or joy for the family that has lost so much," Sharpton said.

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