NEW YORK (AP) — After five years of investigations and protests, the New York City Police Department on Monday fired an officer involved in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, the unarmed man whose dying gasps of “I can’t breathe” gave voice to a national debate over race and police use of force.
Police Commissioner James O’Neill said he fired Daniel Pantaleo, based on a recent recommendation of a department disciplinary judge.
“None of us can take back our decisions,” O’Neill said, “especially when they lead to the death of another human being.”
The decision was welcomed by activists and Garner’s family, but immediately condemned by the head of the city’s largest police union, who declared that it would undermine morale and cause officers to hesitate to use force under any circumstances, for fear they could be fired.
“The leadership has abandoned ship and left our police officers on the street alone, without backing,” said Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said at a news conference, standing in front of a police department flag that had been hung upside down.
Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, said he would try to get the officer reinstated.
De Blasio, speaking at City Hall, said he hoped the decision would let the city, the department and Garner’s family move forward.
A state grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in 2014. Federal authorities, however, kept a civil rights investigation open for five years before announcing last month they would not bring charges.
Pantaleo’s lawyer has insisted the officer used a reasonable amount of force and did not mean to hurt Garner.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said Garner’s family was “relieved but not celebratory.”