After four years, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) announced the start of administrative proceedings against Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who choked Eric Garner to death in 2014. If judged to have committed misconduct, Pantaleo faces penalties ranging from a warning, the loss of time off, or the loss of his job.
Last week marked the four-year anniversary of the murder, which was caught on video and viewed by millions. Garner’s death was one of a series of high-profile police killings in 2014 that provoked large-scale protests in New York and cities around the country.
Garner’s only “crime” on the day that he was killed by Pantaleo was failing to passively submit to police harassment. He was regularly targeted by local cops, accused of selling untaxed loose cigarettes. Yet on the afternoon of July 17, 2014, he did nothing more than break up a fight. As Garner protested unrelenting badgering from the police, Pantaleo attacked.
Video shows the NYPD officer jumped on the man’s back and placed him in a choke hold. Even after Garner collapsed, Pantaleo and a swarm of other officers continued the assault. They continued to press amid Garner’s desperate cries of “I can’t breathe.”
Garner laid on the ground unconscious for several minutes, without any aid administered by police, until he was taken away in an ambulance.
Despite the clear evidence of criminality, local and national authorities have conspired to ensure the police killing goes unpunished. The prosecutor in Staten Island secured an exoneration in the criminal case, downplaying and interfering in eye-witness testimony. A grand jury voted not to indict in December 2014.
Following an eruption of outrage and protests against the injustice, the Obama Justice Department sought to diffuse anger by initiating a federal civil rights investigation. The case lingered for the remaining two years of the Obama administration and another year and a half under Trump. In April of this year, career Department of Justice attorneys recommended moving forward with charges against Pantaleo, but senior officials have refused to act.
This outcome is consistent with the overwhelming majority of similar cases at the Department of Justice. Over the last decade, federal prosecutors have failed to bring charges against police officers in 96 percent of civil rights cases.
Pantaleo, who had a long history of misconduct even before killing Garner, has remained on the force throughout this protracted process, assigned to desk duty. NYPD officials justified delaying the administrative proceedings for four years on the grounds that the federal investigation was ongoing.
Meanwhile, Garner’s family and supporters have continued to demand a criminal prosecution. Gwen Carr, the victim’s mother, said in a statement, “We want them to move forward expeditiously. But we have just been left hanging—and we got the sense that nothing was happening. We want all six police officers involved in my son’s murder to be held accountable.”
Aside from Pantaleo, the NYPD has indicated only one other officer, Kizzy Adonis, the sergeant on duty at the time, who may face internal discipline. However, unlike Pantaleo, Adonis will not likely go before the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), where the most serious cases are prosecuted.
The CCRB itself was created in response to revelations of rampant abuse and corruption in the NYPD decades ago. It has gone through a series of reforms and reconstitutions yet has done nothing to alter the brutal nature of the nation’s largest police force. The CCRB in fact has a long history of covering up for and ignoring the police abuses it is charged with rooting out.
The NYPD continued its killing spree with the gunning down of a mentally ill Brooklyn resident, Saheed Vassell, in April of this year. No charges have been filed against the officers who shot the unarmed Vassell eight times.