The New York City Police Department announced Monday that it is firing Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold in 2014.
The announcement comes more than two weeks after the judge presiding over Pantaleo’s disciplinary trial made a nonbinding recommendation for his dismissal. The choice ultimately fell to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, who said he made his decision in the last few days.
“None of us can take back our decisions, most especially when they lead to the death of another human being,” O’Neill said in a news conference Monday announcing Pantaleo’s firing.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice said it would not pursue federal civil rights charges against Pantaleo, whose deadly use of an illegal chokehold on Garner ― who cried out “I can’t breathe” ― set off national outrage. The DOJ’s decision was announced right before the applicable five-year statute of limitations expired.
New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, which prosecuted the disciplinary case, agreed with the judge’s recommendation that Pantaleo be fired.
“The evidence the CCRB’s prosecutors brought forth at trial was more than sufficient to prove that Pantaleo is unfit to serve,” the board said in a statement. “Commissioner O’Neill must uphold this verdict and dismiss Pantaleo from the Department.”
O’Neill said Monday that had he been the person arresting Garner, he could have made “similar mistakes.” Ultimately, however, Pantaleo did not follow protocol when dealing with a person resisting arrest and must face the consequences, O’Neill said.
“Being a police officer is one of the hardest jobs in the world,” the commissioner said. “That is not a statement to elicit sympathy from those we serve, it’s a fact.”
“But an officer’s choices and actions,” he added later, “even made under extreme pressure, matter.”
His decision comes one day after The New York Times published a previously unseen opinion from Judge Rosemarie Maldonado, who recommended the firing. It said Pantaleo was “untruthful” during interviews with investigators following Garner’s death. Most notably, Maldonado took issue with Pantaleo denying he used a chokehold even after the officer was shown a video of his encounter with Garner.
An activist who has demanded justice for Garner said Monday that Pantaleo’s dismissal does not do enough to addressing the larger issue of police disproportionately using force against unarmed Black people.
“Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s deserved termination, at long last, is not an occasion to celebrate,” Carmen Perez, the president and CEO of Gathering for Justice, said in a statement.
“Today is a sad day,” she said, “because the firing of a dishonest officer provides cover to the NYPD to continue resisting our continued calls for more accountability and transparency.”