More than five years after NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo restrained Eric Garner in a chokehold until he died, a police judge recommended on Friday morning that he be fired.
In a statement following the ruling, the NYPD said: “Officer Pantaleo has been suspended, effective today, as is the longstanding practice in these matters when the recommendation is termination … the NYPD will not comment further until the Police Commissioner makes the final determination.”
It is now up to Police Chief Joseph O’Neill to decide Panatelo’s fate. Law-enforcement sources told the New York Post that he will go along with the judge’s ruling, defying police unions that called for him to resist outside pressure.
“This has been a long battle; five years too long,” Emerald Snipes Garner, Garner’s daughter, said at a news conference in Manhattan with Al Sharpton. “And finally, somebody has said that there’s some information that this cop has done something wrong.”
Garner was cited for illegally selling loose cigarettes near his home on Staten Island on July 17, 2014. When Garner protested his arrest, Pantaleo slammed him to the ground and held him there as Garner uttered a line that would reverberate around the country: “I can’t breathe.” Medical examiners concluded that Garner had suffered an asthmatic reaction and a fatal heart attack. His death was a key trigger for the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014, inspiring marches and protests in New York and around the country.
For those looking for a full measure of justice, the judge’s ruling will likely be bittersweet. As in many other cases of police brutality, criminal charges against the officer have gone nowhere. In 2014, a grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict Pantaleo, and last month, after years of deliberation, the federal government decided not to bring charges either.
The case has caused persistent political headaches for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been criticized for not directly calling for Pantaleo’s ouster. At the second round of Democratic debates this week, protesters interrupted the proceedings by chanting “Fire Pantaleo!”
“Today we finally saw a step towards justice and accountability,” the mayor said on Friday. “I hope this will bring the Garners some closure and the beginning of some peace.”