New York, NY – The family of Eric Garner has asked the court to force the city’s police commissioner and mayor to answer questions about alleged police misconduct under penalty of perjury in connection with Garner’s 2014 death.
Garner’s family accused the New York Police Department (NYPD) of failing to be transparent about the police disciplinary process, and alleged that the department has attempted to “sweep this under the rug” by not punishing other officers who the family believes contributed to Garner’s death, the Associated Press reported.
“There is no area of local government where public accountability is more necessary than policing, especially when police conduct results in the loss of life,” the family’s attorneys said in the petition for a summary judicial inquiry.
“Yet, there has been scant information released by the city about Mr. Garner’s death,” they said.
The hearing would allow city officials to be questioned about alleged misconduct, and transcripts of their testimonies would subsequently be released to the public, the Associated Press reported.
“Our hope is to hold everyone who was involved in my son’s murder accountable,” said Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, according to the New York Post.
The family has alleged that NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and numerous other city officials neglected their duties with regards to how Garner’s death was investigated and handled.
“After all of the games they have played for more than half a decade, we have no faith that they have really been diligent in investigating officer misconduct,” Carr and Garner’s sister, Ellisha Flagg Garner, said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
NYPD and City Hall said that a summary judicial inquiry is unwarranted, and that there has already been a public trial for former NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was fired on Aug. 19 in connection with Garner’s death.
“The police commissioner promised the people of New York a fair, thorough, and unbiased trial process, and that is precisely what occurred,” NYPD spokesperson Phil Walzak told the Associated Press.
By law, personnel records have to be kept private, which has affected how much information about disciplinary cases has been released.
Commissioner O’Neill has said he would support an effort to change that law, the Associated Press reported.
Garner was arrested by NYPD officers on July 17, 2014, after police stopped him for selling individual, untaxed loose cigarettes on a city sidewalk.
He resisted arrest and fought with officers who struggled to take the 350-pound man into custody.
In the process of subduing Garner, video taken by witnesses showed that Officer Pantaleo had his arm around Garner's neck and pressed his face against the sidewalk.
Garner repeatedly told officers “I can’t breathe,” a phrase that became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter in the months that followed.
Officer Pantaleo later said he tried to use a “seatbelt maneuver” on Garner, and did not mean to put the much larger man into a choke hold.
Garner lost consciousness on the sidewalk, and died in the hospital an hour later from a medical emergency.
The autopsy report showed no damage to any area of his neck, and it was determined that he died of a medical emergency induced by officers who were arresting him. The medical examiner declared it was a homicide.
A New York Grand Jury declined to indict on any criminal charges.
The federal inquiry dragged on for five years and ended in July with federal prosecutors deciding not to charge Officer Pantaleo.
On Aug. 2, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado issued a non-binding verdict that said Officer Pantaleo was not guilty of aggravated assault or obstructing breathing, but that he had violated department policy regarding the use of chokeholds, WABC reported.
When NYPD Police Commissioner O’Neill announced Officer Pantaleo’s termination, he insisted that politics had nothing to do with his decision.
“The unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own,” Commissioner O’Neill told reporters at a press conference at NYPD headquarters.
He disputed rumors that City Hall and de Blasio had ordered him to fire the controversial police officer, and said his 34 years as an NYPD police officer had made it a difficult decision.
“If I was still a cop, I’d probably be mad at me. ‘You’re not looking out for us.’ But I am,” Commissioner O’Neill said.
He said that he had considered a separation option for Officer Pantaleo that would have let him keep his pension, but ultimately, decided to do a straight-forward termination and deny him his pension.
Attorney Stuart London said that now-former Officer Pantaleo would be filing an appeal of his termination under Article 78.