The New York City police officer who placed Eric Garner in a chokehold before his death was “untruthful” during interviews with investigators following the fatal encounter, a police administrative judge said in an opinion obtained by The New York Times.
Earlier this month, Judge Rosemarie Maldonado recommended that Daniel Pantaleo, one of the officers who attempted to arrest Garner in 2014 for allegedly selling illegal cigarettes in Staten Island, be fired from the NYPD. Maldonado determined that Pantaleo had not deliberately restricted Garner’s breathing but had used a banned chokehold on the man, whose repeated cry of “I can’t breathe” triggered national outrage and galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement.
Pantaleo was suspended from the department following Maldonado’s recommendation.
The Times published the judge’s 46-page opinion in full on Sunday. The document provides deeper insights into the reasons behind Maldonado’s recommendation that Pantaleo be dismissed.
The judge said Pantaleo allegedly lied to investigators following Garner’s death and had “recklessly used force” against the man. When Pantaleo was asked by investigators to define a chokehold, he replied, “You take your two hands and you’re choking their throat or if you use your forearm grasped with the other hand and you pull back with your forearm onto the windpipe preventing him from breathing,” Maldonado wrote in her opinion, which was addressed to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.
But when investigators showed the officer a video that revealed how he wrapped his left forearm around Garner’s neck with his two hands clasped, Pantaleo denied that he’d used a chokehold in the encounter.
“I found [Pantaleo’s] uncorroborated hearsay statements explaining his actions to be untruthful,” Maldonado wrote.
Maldonado also took issue with the testimonies of Pantaleo’s witnesses, fellow officers Mark Ramos and Craig Furlani, who told investigators that they could not remember where Pantaleo had placed his arms on Garner during the encounter.
“The accounts presented by [Pantaleo’s] witnesses on this point were also unhelpful or unreliable,” Maldonado wrote. “In fact, the more central the factual inquiry was, the more vague recollections became.”
O’Neill is expected to make a decision about Pantaleo’s future by the end of the month, the Times reported.
The Justice Department said in July that it would not pursue federal civil rights charges against Pantaleo for Garner’s death.
“The DOJ has failed us,” Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, told reporters at the time. “Five years ago, my son said ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times. Today we can’t breathe ― because they have let us down.”