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NYPD Vows to Move Forward with Disciplinary Proceedings In Eric Garner Death If DOJ Fails to Prosecute Officer

Eric Garner

Video snapshot of Officer Daniel Pantaleo placing Eric Garner in a choke hold. (Image courtesy iof the New York Daily News.)

The New York Police Department says it will no longer wait on the feds to bring charges against the officer seen holding Eric Garner in an illegal choke hold, ultimately killing him.

On Monday, the department announced plans to move forward with its own disciplinary proceedings against Officer Daniel Pantaleo if the U.S. Department of Justice fails to say whether it will bring federal charges, CNN reported. The DOJ has until the end of August to make a decision.

“The NYPD has come to the conclusion that given the extraordinary passage of time since the incident without a final decision on the U.S. DOJ’s criminal investigation, any further delay in moving ahead with our own disciplinary proceedings can no longer be justified,”  Lawrence Byrne, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of legal matters, wrote in a letter.

The letter comes on the eve of the four-year anniversary of Garner’s death, which occurred during a scuffle with Pantaleo on Staten Island in 2014. Video from the incident showed the officer place Garner, 43, in an illegal choke hold while trying to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. The father of six’s last words were “I can’t breathe,” which became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Pantaleo has been stuck on desk duty since Garner’s death, according to the New York Post. A grand jury declined to indict him in the killing. Pantaleo’s supervisor Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, who was present at the scene, was placed on modified duty and could also face disciplinary action from the department.

In the letter, Byrne said that the department held off on taking disciplinary action against the officer so not as to interfere with the DOJ’s investigation. The lengthy wait has left them quite impatient, however, and the department said it’s ready to move forward with departmental charges.

“Understandably, members of the public in general and the Garner family in particular have grown impatient with the fact that [the] NYPD has not proceeded with our disciplinary proceedings and they have difficulty comprehending a decision to defer to a federal criminal investigation that seems to have no end in sight,” Byrne wrote.

If the DOJ happens to announce a decision before Aug. 31, then the NYPD, “will continue to hold off on our disciplinary proceedings until the final resolution of those criminal charges,” the letter states. If not, the department “will move ahead” with its disciplinary proceedings before or soon after Sept. 1.

In a statement, the Justice Department claimed it informed the NYPD that it could move forward with its disciplinary proceedings this spring — a claim the department says it had no knowledge of.

“… As officials at the Department of Justice informed Mr. Byrne this spring, the New York Police Department may move forward with its disciplinary proceedings,” the DOJ wrote. “Mr. Byrne’s letter does not have any bearing on the decision-making timeline at the Justice Department, and the Department cannot comment further at this time.”

The NYPD officers’ union responded to the announcement, agreeing that the DOJ should hurry and close the case, putting an end to “what has been a highly irregular fishing expedition by those seeking an indictment at all cost.” The group, which represents Pantaleo, also expressed skepticism that their client would get a fair departmental hearing.

“That should not trigger a race by the NYPD to reach a pre-determined outcome in its own disciplinary processes,” said Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch. “… Police Officer Pantaleo is entitled to due process and an impartial consideration of the facts. If that is allowed to occur, we are confident that he will be vindicated and will finally be able to move forward.”

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