A week-long departmental trial for Daniel Pantaleo, the New York police officer who put Eric Garner in the unauthorized choke hold that led to his death nearly five years ago on Staten Island, is set to begin this week.
Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe,” became a national rallying cry in protests over issues of race and justice.
This is not a criminal proceeding but a matter before an NYPD administrative judge who will weigh whether Pantaleo inappropriately used the maneuver. The judge’s decision goes to Police Commissioner James O’Neill, who will then decide Pantaleo’s fate with the NYPD.
The Justice Department declined to pursue a federal civil rights case against Pantaleo, who has been relegated to desk duty these last several years.
It is uncertain whether Pantaleo will testify at his departmental trial.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the Justice Department’s decision on Friday with WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer.
“It’s really important to respect due process here and I’ve been clear about that,” de Blasio said. “The big – the big mistake here, I really believe in my heart is the Justice Department never decided anything and, you know, the City of New York deferred to the Justice Department’s request that they take their investigation forward and determine if there would be charges and they never to this day have and it’s just – I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
He went on, “I feel – I know the Garner family and they have gone through so much and they’re still waiting for an answer from the Justice Department but we finally got to the point of saying to the Justice Department, the NYPD is going to go ahead with its disciplinary process … I don’t know if the Justice Department is ever going to act and again I’m astounded and it went over two administrations without any resolution but we owe it to the people of the city and the Garner family to get to whatever resolution a court process brings and that will happen this year.”
If Pantaleo is found guilty of violating department rules, he faces penalties ranging from the loss of vacation days to termination. Pantaleo has denied all wrongdoing.