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NYPD fires Daniel Pantaleo over Eric Garner chokehold death

Garner’s dying words, ‘I can’t breathe’, became a flash point in the debate over race and police use of force.

Daniel Pantaleo leaves his house in Staten Island, New York [File: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP Photo]
Daniel Pantaleo leaves his house in Staten Island, New York [File: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP Photo]

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has fired the white police officer who used a fatal chokehold in the 2014 death of Eric Garner, a black man.

Police commissioner James O’Neill announced Monday that he fired officer Daniel Pantaleo based on a recent recommendation of a department disciplinary judge.

Pantaleo was suspended earlier this month after the recommendation. He had previously been on desk duty since he was seen in widely viewed mobile phone videos using a banned chokehold on Garner on a Staten Island pavement during an attempted arrest.

Garner’s dying words of “I can’t breathe” were recorded on the videos and became a flashpoint in a national debate over race and police use of force.

The recordings led to years of protests and calls by black activists, their supporters and liberal politicians for Pantaleo to lose his job. City officials had long insisted, though, they couldn’t take action until criminal investigations were complete.

Eric Garner
Protesters rally and speak out on the one-year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner in New York [File: Lucas Jackson/Reuters]

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.

Chokehold

Garner’s death came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that sparked the national Black Lives Matter movement.

Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

At a recent administrative trial at New York Police Department headquarters, Pantaleo’s lawyers argued he used an approved “seat belt” technique to subdue Garner, who refused to be handcuffed after officers accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes.

In a bystander’s video, it appeared that Pantaleo initially tried to use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, who was much larger at 6-foot-2 (188 centimetres) and about 400 pounds (180kg), but ended up wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck for about seven seconds as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to the pavement.

The footage showed Garner, who was 43 at the time, crying out, “I can’t breathe,” at least 11 times before he fell unconscious.

The New York City Chief Medical Examiner’s office ruled that Garner’s death was a homicide induced by “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police”.

In 2015, New York City officials agreed to pay Garner’s family an out-of-court settlement of $5.9m to resolve a wrongful death lawsuit.

Questions about the handling of the case have dogged Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio during his long-shot run for president, with some protesters at the recent debate in Detroit chanting, “Fire Pantaleo.”

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SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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