4 Years after Eric Garner’s Killing by NYPD, His Family & Supporters Tell Mayor de Blasio: NYPD Letter Isn’t Action; Stop Protecting, Identify & Fire Guilty Officers
NYPD letter to DOJ & Justice Department response shows de Blasio administration misled public, inaction was unjustified & there’s no reason to wait until September to discipline officers
Family and community demand that NYPD immediately begin disciplinary process to fire all officers who used excessive force in killing, failed to intervene, and then tried to cover it up with lies on official reports
On the day that marks four years since Eric Garner was killed by NYPD officers on Staten Island, Garner’s mother was joined by elected officials and community supporters to demand the de Blasio administration immediately start disciplinary action against the officers responsible for the killing and its related misconduct. Specifically, they demanded that Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD immediately hold all of the multiple officers who used excessive force against Garner – not just Pantaleo – accountable by bringing them up on disciplinary charges and firing them. They also demanded that the multiple NYPD officers who failed to intervene as Garner pleaded, “I can’t breathe” eleven times and those who participated in an effort to cover-up the killing through lies on official reports be immediately publicly identified and face the same fate. In making the demands, Garner’s mother described the letter sent yesterday by the NYPD to the Justice Department (DOJ) as an inadequate political distraction that continues unnecessary delay. The NYPD-imposed an artificial delay with a September date in the letter that is now entirely irrelevant, since DOJ has responded it has no problem with the NYPD disciplinary process moving forward.
“I’m tired of the de Blasio administration's delays and playing politics with the murder of my son, and yesterday’s NYPD letter is just another example,” said Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner. “Its vague rhetoric provides no action or commitment to hold all of the officers who used excessive force in the killing of my son and engaged in other misconduct related to it accountable. Multiple officers used force while Pantaleo used a chokehold banned by the NYPD for over 20 years, others did nothing to intervene as my son said he couldn't breathe 11 times, and other officers tried to cover it up on official reports afterwards. The fact is that four years after my son was murdered on video that the whole world saw, the de Blasio administration has failed to hold any of those multiple officers accountable and they have collectively gone on to make hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, dollars in taxpayer-funded salaries. The de Blasio administration has shown no commitment that it will provide full accountability, as it continues to allow the NYPD to conceal the names of the multiple other officers – beyond only two – who engaged in that misconduct.”
“Yesterday’s letter and the Justice Department response shows that the excuse that de Blasio and the NYPD have been using for not holding officers accountable is just that: a political excuse,” Carr continued. In fact, DOJ’s response makes very clear that there is nothing stopping the NYPD from acting immediately to discipline officers and there's no reason to wait until September, like NYPD’s letter laid out. Mayor de Blasio must stop the political games and ensure immediate action is taken to start the disciplinary process against all officers who killed my son and committed acts of misconduct related to it, so they are fired. That means ending the NYPD’s obstruction of CCRB from prosecuting Pantaleo and firing him, identifying and bringing disciplinary charges against and firing all officers who used excessive force, did nothing to intervene as my son pleaded for his life, lied on official reports and other misconduct.”
The specific demands Mrs. Carr and her supporters made of Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD include:
- Immediately releasing the names of all officers who engaged in misconduct related to the killing of Eric Garner
- Immediately move forward with discipline proceedings against all of them – not wait until September
- Commit to letting the public know the outcomes of all discipline proceedings related to Garner’s killing and the attempted cover-up
- Commit to not allowing Pantaleo or any of the other officers to resign or leave with “good guy letters”, their guns, or any benefits that aren’t mandated by law.
The entire premise of the need to await DOJ action, advanced solely by the de Blasio administration, was called into question over the past four years by those pointing to recent history across the nation, past history in New York City, and statements by federal officials to the contrary. Local jurisdictions and departments are not required to wait for DOJ to move forward on disciplinary processes, and similar claims by the de Blasio administration have been disproven by federal officials.
The South Carolina police officer – Michael Slager – who killed Walter Scott in 2015 was fired by his police department before the federal government charged him with civil rights violations. Roy Oliver, the Texas police officer who killed Jordan Edwards in April 2017, was fired by his department before it was announced that the Justice Department was investigating. The last time an NYPD officer was convicted by DOJ for violations in the killing of a civilian was after the 1994 chokehold killing of Anthony Baez by Officer Francis Livoti. The NYPD conducted a disciplinary trial and fired Livoti before the DOJ acted, which the family attorney said contributed to the DOJ prosecution. The de Blasio administration and NYPD made a similar claim about the Justice Department requesting they not proceed with NYPD administrative, disciplinary processes related to officers involved in killing Ramarley Graham. It led to delays of over five years, yet when Graham’s mother met with the Justice Department, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and his staff were directly and specifically asked about this and they refuted these claims by the de Blasio administration.
The DOJ response yesterday to the NYPD letter indicated that they told the NYPD in the spring that there was no reason to hold off. It entirely calls into question the authenticity and substance of the NYPD letter, which already appeared to be an attempt to redirect media attention from the focus on NYPD’s four years of inaction on the four-year anniversary of Garner’s killing. The DOJ’s response effectively removes any excuse for the NYPD to defer action against the officers responsible for Eric Garner’s killing and related misconduct until September. September is indisputably an artificial constraint imposed by the NYPD – a repeated pattern of the de Blasio administration creating a rationale for inaction.
The effect of all this delay, besides putting Garner’s family through the process of having to fight for basic accountability for the past four years, is that all of these officers have continued to receive salaries and pay raises with taxpayer money. Collectively, they have received at least hundreds of thousands, if not over a million dollars in taxpayer-subsidized payments. Pantaleo, who placed Garner in a chokehold banned by the NYPD for over 20 years while other officers used excessive force or failed to intervene, has himself received at least over $345,000 since he killed Garner, and the figure is likely closer to $500,000. He received the largest paycheck since he’s been an NYPD officer last year - $120,128 (figures for the past year are not yet publicly available). Even if he is fired or resigns, the last four years of NYPD inaction have effectively provided a boost to his pension payout, another common product of the NYPD’s dysfunctional disciplinary system. The same is likely true of other officers.
Even four years later in as high profile of a case as this, the NYPD has still only publicly identified two officers among the many who engaged in misconduct surrounding Garner’s killing. The de Blasio administration has allowed the department to conceal the names of the multiple other officers who used excessive force, failed to intervene, and lied on official police reports about the incident in an attempt to cover-up wrongdoing. Reporting by the New York Times makes clear that officers on the scene tried to cover up the use of force in their official reports of the incident. The truth would not have become known by the public if it were not for video taken by a civilian. Despite the involvement of multiple officers, the NYPD has only publicly identified two officers – Pantaleo and Sergeant Kizzy Adonis. By keeping other officers’ names concealed, the NYPD is once again denying transparency to the family and public, undermining accountability for Garner’s killing and the misconduct related to it.
Eric Garner was killed on Staten Island on July 17, 2014 after being placed in an NYPD-banned chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Such a chokehold has been banned by the NYPD for over 20 years, and several other officers were on video using excessive force against him or doing nothing to intervene, as he pleaded for his life, saying “I Can’t Breathe” at least eleven times. Despite nearly four years passing since Garner’s killing, the de Blasio administration and NYPD have done nothing to hold any of the officers accountable.
Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. said: “It bears noting that at the four-year mark from the killing of Eric Garner, accountability of the entire system is absent. This means holding officer Pantaleo, who violated internal guidelines by using a choke-hold on Eric Garner, the officers who helped subdue Eric Garner, and the ones who did not intervene, accountable for their actions. The family of Eric Garner, indeed all of New York, have waited enough.”
Council Member Carlos Menchaca stated: “It stretches credulity to believe that for four years, the de Blasio administration and NYPD have taken no action to discipline officers who killed Eric Garner, lied about it in official reports, and engaged in other misconduct to attempt to cover it up. Now, we have learned that the NYPD has told the DOJ that they intend to move forward with its own disciplinary investigation in September if the DOJ doesn't bring charges. But this is an artificial timeline. The DOJ has already stated the NYPD can move forward. The NYPD must commit to moving the discipline process forward immediately, making this investigation as wide as possible, to include the other officers involved who did nothing to intervene, and to promise swiftness. We cannot, and will not, stop until there is justice for Eric Garner and his family.”
Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said: “It has been four long years since that fatal July afternoon when Eric Garner was choked to death by officer Daniel Pantaleo on Staten Island. Since then, little justice has been secured for the Garner family; and Officer Pantaleo remains on the force collecting a paycheck. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s refusal to hold Pantaleo and the other officers involved in Eric Garner’s killing accountable is unconscionable, and sends a message of apathy to the Garners and to communities beset by police violence. The Legal Aid Society stands in solidarity with the Garner family on this tragic anniversary demanding justice and closure, and the immediate firing of Officer Pantaleo and all other NYPD officers involved in Eric’s murder that day.”
Assembly Member Harvey Epstein stated: “I think what we all want to know…need to know… Is justice deaf, dumb and blind when Black or Brown people are on the other end of police violence? It seems justice has a very short memory when it comes to true justice for people of color. Eric Garner had a family, a community that he was a part of. He didn’t need to die. He didn’t deserve to die. Something needs to done about how police interact with communities of color…The people we elect come courting Black & Brown votes during an election year, but slow walks justice in those communities once in office. It’s not fair and it’s not right. I stand with the Garner family and all families in their quest for justice.”
About Communities United for Police Reform
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and policing practices based on cooperation and respect– not discriminatory targeting and harassment.
CPR brings together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those unfairly targeted the most by the NYPD. CPR is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.