Gwen Carr, Organizers Call for Mayor de Blasio and Other Top Officials to Testify in Judicial Inquiry
Yesterday, lawyers for Gwen Carr and other petitioners in the historic judicial inquiry into Eric Garner’s killing, and subsequent cover-up, submitted a brief to Justice Erika M. Edwards of the NYS Supreme Court detailing why certain witnesses, such as Mayor de Blasio, former NYPD Commissioner O’Neill and other high-ranking NYC officials should be made to testify in court as part of the inquiry. The judicial inquiry is aimed at investigating the violations and neglect of duties by Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner O’Neill, and other City officials regarding to the killing of Mr. Garner and other related topics such as the falsifying of arrest records and the leaking of confidential information.
On June 30, 2021, Justice Edwards asked petitioners to explain why some of the City’s top officials, including the mayor and police commissioner, were relevant witnesses in the inquiry. Yesterday’s filing argues that a previous decision regarding the judicial inquiry from Justice Joan A. Madden makes it clear that Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner O’Neill, and others were “closely and personally involved in the City’s response [to the killing of Eric Garner] from the outset” and are therefore key witnesses.
The filing goes on to state: “Indeed, these individuals either were involved in decisions concerning the City’s investigations and disciplinary actions related to the areas of inquiry Justice Madden ordered and therefore have unique personal knowledge, or they abdicated their responsibilities to investigate and/or impose discipline and thereby violated and neglected their duties.”
Some of Mayor de Blasio’s comments regarding Mr. Garner’s killing and the actions of the NYPD afterwards, which show his involvement in the investigation and discipline of officers—or lack thereof- were included in the filing. It states: “The Mayor said, ‘I know that members of the NYPD learned the lessons of this tragedy. They acted on it, they did something about it. It is a beginning, but we have a lot more to do and the change has to get deeper and deeper.’” But the family of Eric Garner and the public still don’t know what investigations or disciplinary actions—if any—were taken related to officers besides Daniel Pantaleo and Kizzy Adonis, for their role in Mr. Garner’s stop and arrest, the use of force against Mr. Garner, and any cover-up or misconduct that took place afterwards, including the falsifying of arrest records and making false statements.
The City’s response to this filing is due on July 16th. Saturday, July 17th will mark seven years since Mr. Garner was killed by the NYPD.
The petitioners are represented by Alvin Bragg, Co-Director of New York Law School’s (NYLS) Racial Justice Project and Gideon Oliver, police misconduct attorney and a past President of the New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
Below are statements from Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Loyda Colon, Executive Director of the Justice Committee; and Kesi Foster, spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, in response to the petitioners’ filing with the court:
"Next week will be seven years since the NYPD murdered my son, Eric Garner, and police and city officials who engaged in misconduct are still being protected by Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD in the ongoing cover-up," said Gwen Carr (she/her), mother of Eric Garner. "No mother should have to go through seven years of fighting just to get the facts. It took over 5 years of protests and fighting this administration's obstruction for Pantaleo to be fired and it seems like the Mayor and the NYPD really thought they could just sweep misconduct and egregious acts by other officers under the rug, and we would forget. New Yorkers and I deserve the whole story and we need the court to compel Mayor de Blasio and other top city officials to testify and finally reveal the truth of the cover-ups, obstruction, and their refusal to fully investigate or fire officers like Justin Damico, Craig Furlani, Mark Ramos, Lt. Christopher Bannon, Sgt. Kizzy Adonis and others for the killing of my son and the surrounding cover-up."
“The NYPD violence that killed Mr. Garner is systemic and ongoing, as is the cover-up,” said Loyda Colon (they/them), Executive Director of the Justice Committee. “In spite of de Blasio promising a thorough and transparent investigation from day one, he and officials under him blocked transparency for Mr. Garner's family and the general public every step of the way and are continuing to do so by delaying and refusing to take the stand. Top decision-makers like the Mayor and the NYPD must be held to account and made to answer for the extensive cover-up of Eric's murder, leaks and false statements made in their official reports and to the public, years of delays in the disciplinary process, and refusal to discipline most of the officers involved in Eric's murder.”
“No mother should have to fight for 7 years to get basic information about why officers haven't been fired for misconduct related to the killing of their son the way Gwen Carr has," said Kesi Foster, (he/him), spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform. “If Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD can continue to get away with hiding the truth and protecting cops related to the killing of Eric Garner—one of the most highly publicized police killings in the world—it sends the dangerous message that the city can sweep the details of any police killing under the rug. There are officers like Justin Damico who lied in official reports, initiated the unlawful stop that resulted in Eric being killed and have never even faced discipline charges. At the same time, Eric Garner's family and the public have been footing the bill for the paychecks and pensions of these cops for seven years while de Blasio and the NYPD refuse to fire them. Requiring the public testimony of Mayor de Blasio and other top city officials who were part of decisions that hid the truth from New Yorkers and the public for years is the bare minimum of what needs to happen to help advance transparency in this case. It’s time for Mayor de Blasio to stop blocking information, drop the appeal, and finally allow the truth to come out.”
NEXT STEPS: Following a June 30 discovery conference before Justice Erika M. Edwards of New York State Supreme Court, the Court set the next conference for July 19 and ordered lawyers for the parties to submit a brief about the appropriateness of testimony from certain witnesses, which Petitioners submitted yesterday. The City’s response to petitioners’ brief is due on July 16. The judicial inquiry is currently scheduled to begin on October 25. The City is still attempting to appeal a previous court decision to allow the judicial inquiry to move forward. Oral arguments in the appeal were heard on May 25th and the outcome of the appeal is still pending.
On August 27, 2019, the New York Law School Racial Justice Project and the Law Offices of Gideon Oliver filed a historic petition on behalf of Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, Ellisha Flagg-Garner, sister of Eric Garner, Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham, Loyda Colon of Justice Committee, Joo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform, Monifa Bandele of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Mark Winston Griffith of Brooklyn Movement Center, and Kesi Foster of Make the Road New York, against the Mayor of New York City, the NYPD Police Commissioner, and other New York City officials. The petition was brought under Section 1109 of the New York City Charter, a “sunlight” provision.
After the City moved to dismiss the lawsuit, Justice Joan A. Madden issued a decision on September 24, 2020, allowing a judicial inquiry to move forward with respect to alleged violations and neglect of duty in connection with: (1) the stop, arrest, and use of force against Mr. Garner; (2) the filing of false official documents concerning Mr. Garner's arrest; (3) the leaking of Mr. Garner's alleged arrest history and medical condition in the autopsy report; and (4) the alleged lack of medical care provided to Mr. Garner by police officers.
Unhappy with the court’s decision, the City tried to block the petition by filing a notice of appeal and by attempting to argue that there was an automatic stay to all further proceedings before the Supreme Court while the City’s appeal was pending. In December 2020, Justice Madden rejected the City’s arguments, allowing proceedings related to the inquiry to move forward, unless the City won a stay from an appeals court.
On February 12, 2021, the City filed a motion with the Appellate Division, First Department, the appeals court, seeking to stay the judicial inquiry. On March 23, 2021, the First Department denied this request. The First Department heard the appeal on May 25, 2021 and the outcome is still pending.
Following Justice Madden’s retirement from the bench, Justice Erika M. Edwards was assigned to preside over the case.
In addition to the petition brought under Section 1109, the petitioners submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the NYPD and the Civilian Complaint Review Board relating to Mr. Garner’s arrest and killing, to which the City has not yet provided full disclosures. The City has also failed to adequately respond to a March 16 letter from petitioners’ lawyers requesting records and documents as a part of discovery in the judicial inquiry.
The judicial inquiry is currently set to begin on October 25 and petitioners filed a brief yesterday regarding the importance and relevance of the testimony of Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner O’Neill, and other top officials as part of the judicial inquiry.
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 reduces reliance on policing. CPR runs coalitions of over 200 local, statewide and national organizations, bringing 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 most unfairly targeted by the NYPD.Topics: Eric Garner