New York, NY – Shortly after the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced it would not be pursuing charges against New York Police Department (NYPD) Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a new police officer discipline policy for the city.
De Blasio said the new city policy would require immediate disciplinary proceedings against officers involved in incidents where the suspect dies after a police use of force, according to Staten Island Advance.
The policy is in response to complaints about NYPD waiting to hold its own administrative hearings for Officer Pantaleo until more than four years after the incident occurred.
NYPD was following its policy of letting state and federal prosecutors determine whether to prosecute an officer prior to the beginning of departmental disciplinary proceedings.
“Years ago, we put our faith in the federal government to act,” de Blasio said. “We won’t make that mistake again.”
Officer Pantaleo has been working in an administrative capacity for the police department since Garner died while Garner’s family has consistently called for his termination.
Wednesday marks the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death and the day that the statute of limitations expires on most charges Officer Pantaleo could potentially face.
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.
The suspect lost consciousness on the sidewalk, and died in the hospital an hour later from a medical emergency.
Garner's 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 has dragged on for five years and split the Justice Department in half between those who want to go after the officer and those who thought the officer did nothing wrong, according to The New York Times.
Donoghue explained federal prosecutors’ decision not to charge Officer Pantaleo.
The U.S. attorney said that while Garner’s death was a tragedy, “the evidence does not support charging Police Officer Pantaleo with a federal civil rights violation.”
He said federal prosecutors could not prove that the officer “willfully used excessive force to violate Mr. Garner’s rights as required under the law,” The New York Times reported.
Frustrated with the long delays from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, NYPD decided to proceed with Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary trial in May.
It ended in June, but the Civilian Complaint Review Board has yet to return a ruling in the case.
If and when the review board returns its findings, any disciplinary measures taken against Officer Pantaleo will likely be kept private due to New York’s aggressive interpretation of a state law meant to protect personnel records from public view, Staten Island Advance reported.
That manner of handling those records was initially undertaken by de Blasio.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Phillip Walzak said that the Department of Justice’s decision not to charge Officer Pantaleo will have no effect on the administrative disciplinary process that takes place when the Civilian Complaint Review Board rules, according to Staten Island Advance.
Walzak said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill was waiting for the board’s report, and the recommendation from the NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials, prior to making a decision on Officer Pantaleo’s fate.
In addition to the new expedited discipline policy, the mayor said that in the future, the city would call on the federal government to force the Department of Justice to notify families of whether they intend to charge the officer, Staten Island Advance reported.
De Blasio said the policy would allow for the re-opening of the case after a year if new facts were discovered.
“This further reform will make sure no family ever waits years for the answers they deserve,” de Blasio said.
Eric Garner’s family screamed about the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s decision at a press conference with the Reverend Al Sharpton on Tuesday.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, vowed to keep fighting despite the fact she said the U.S. Department of Justice had let her down.
“You killed my son and you won’t get away with it!” she yelled.
Garner’s sister shrieked her displeasure into the microphone.
“I’m going to stand outside and I’m going to scream it. Pantaleo needs to be fired! He needs to be fired!” she demanded. “There is no waiting. There is no nothing. The statute of limitations is tomorrow.”
“Eric died 7/17/14. We’re at 7/16/19!” she continued. “Five years later and there’s still no justice. So no, there will be no calm. No, there will be no peace. No justice, no peace!”
Garner’s mother demanded to be notified by NYPD that Officer Pantaleo had been fired by 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
That did not happen.
Protests were already scheduled for Wednesday, on the fifth anniversary of the date of Garner’s death.