A white New York Police Department (NYPD) officer who put an unarmed black man in a fatal chokehold five years ago should be fired, a police judge recommended, in a case that stoked the Black Lives Matter movement and reverberated in the United States presidential campaign.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo has been on desk duty since widely viewed mobile phone videos showed him using the chokehold on Eric Garner during an attempted arrest in Staten Island. Police believed Garner, 43, was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner and departmental administrative judge Rosemarie Maldonado oversaw the disciplinary process for Pantaleo, who was accused of contributing to Garner’s death on July 17, 2014.
Her recommendation that he should be sacked will be examined by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, who has the final say.
Pantaleo was immediately suspended without pay for 30 days, following standard practice, while the recommendation undergoes final review, the NYPD said on Friday.
The police commissioner is expected to follow the judge’s recommendation, CNN reported.
“Today, we finally saw a step towards justice and accountability,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at City Hall.
“We saw a process that was actually fair and impartial, and I hope that this will now bring the Garner family a sense of closure and the beginning of some peace.”
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said the report brought her “some relief” but it was overdue and fell short of true accountability.
Pantaleo’s lawyer and a union leader said the judgement penalised an officer for properly doing his job. The lawyer said he will appeal to state court if Pantaleo is fired.
Garner’s death came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that sparked the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement.
Four officers attempted to arrest Garner on suspicion of illegally selling cigarettes on a pavement in Staten Island, one of five boroughs in the most populous US city.
In a video recorded by his friend Ramsey Orta, which went viral on the internet, Pantaleo can be seen putting his arm tightly around Garner’s neck and driving the much larger suspect into the pavement before releasing him.
Meanwhile, another officer pressed Garner’s head to the pavement.
Garner, who resisted arrest and was unarmed, complained 11 times that he could not breathe – a refrain that would become a rallying cry for protesters.
On July 16, the US Department of Justice determined that Pantaleo would not face federal charges, a decision that Garner’s family slammed as an “insult”.
The decision came after the victim’s family appealed to the DOJ to consider whether federal criminal or civil rights charges could be brought against one or more of the officers in the case.
A New York state grand jury decided in December 2014 that there was insufficient evidence to support homicide charges against Pantaleo, amid claims that Garner suffered from a heart condition and asthma that could have caused his death.
Meanwhile, Orta, who filmed the chokehold, remains in jail. In 2016, he took a plea deal for a weapons and drug case, but claimed he had been the target of police retaliation.