In rare decision, NYPD fires the officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold

Craig Ruttle/AP/Shutterstock

Five years after New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, 34, was filmed putting Eric Garner into a chokehold, killing Garner, Pantaleo is being fired from the New York Police Department. Pantaleo was never charged with any crime relating to Garner’s death. Eric Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for activists across the country in 2014, during the height of national protests against police brutality.

“It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer serve as a police officer,” New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said in a press conference on Monday. According to the Daily Beast, Pantaleo was fired because the NYPD determined that he used a prohibited chokehold to restrain Garner. Earlier, in August, the highest-ranking judge in the NYPD suggested that Pantaleo be terminated. The decision to fire Pantaleo was left to Commissioner O’Neill.

The proceedings for Pantaleo’s firing began earlier this year in a non-criminal trial. Pantaleo’s defense team argued that Garner’s death was not a result of the chokehold, while the prosecution argued that Garner was not a threat to the officers and that Pantaleo used unnecessary force.

“Eric Garner didn’t swing or hit any of these officers. There were three other officers there that didn’t use a chokehold,” said Jonathan Fogel, the prosecutor who handled the case, during a May hearing. “This officer didn’t let go even after Mr. Garner fell to the ground. When he locked his hands together, it became more than reckless.”

In early August, the Department of Justice declined to prosecute Pantaleo on any charges related to Eric Garner’s death. The news was another blow to the Garner family, who suffered the loss of Garner’s daughter, Erica, to a heart attack after she spent years organizing and calling for justice for her father.

"Five years ago, my son said 'I can't breathe' 11 times, and today we can't breathe, because they let us down," Gwen Carr said, after the Justice Department’s decision about Pantaleo.

The lack of consequences in Garner’s death has been a point of contention between New York City residents and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who many see as having not done enough to bring justice for the Garner family. The only person who ever spent time in jail relating to Eric Garner’s death is his friend Ramsey Orta, who has been in jail for since filming Pantaleo’s chokehold.

Many are still unsatisfied that Pantaleo will avoid criminal charges for Garner’s death.

“For five long years, the family of Eric Garner has fought for some semblance of justice after Garner’s life was taken from them by Daniel Pantaleo,” New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement to Mic. “While today’s decision will not bring Eric Garner back to life or erase the pain felt by his family, it affirms what we all know: Pantaleo used excessive force on an unarmed Black man and is not fit to serve as a police officer.