Judge Rules Trial of N.Y. Officer Accused in Chokehold Death of Eric Garner Can Proceed

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A judge on Thursday cleared the way for the disciplinary trial of a New York City officer accused of choking Eric Garner to death to proceed.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden ruled to allow the case to move forward, quashing officer Daniel Pantaleos argument that the police watchdog group bringing the case lacks jurisdiction.

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

“It has been nearly five years since this tragic incident,” Justice Madden said, according to the Associated Press. “The Garner family, the police officer and the public should have resolution of the issues involved in this trial.”

The Civilian Complaint Review Board is acting like the prosecution in Pantaleo’s administrative case under a memorandum of understanding with the New York Police Department, the outlet reported. Pantaleo has remained on desk duty since the fatal 2014 incident, in which he placed Garner, a 43-year-old Black man, in a banned chokehold while trying to arrest him for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

In video from the incident, Garner is heard gasping “I can’t breathe,” which became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The father of six suffered a heart attack in the ambulance and later died. An autopsy by the city’s medical examiner concluded that the department-banned maneuver, along with Garner’s poor health — asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes — contributed to his death.

Garner’s family was awarded a $5.9 million wrongful death settlement from the city in 2015.

Pantaleo, whom a grand jury declined to indict on criminal charges in the incident, now faces NYPD administrative charges of reckless use of force and strangulation. If found guilty, he could face punishment ranging from the loss of vacation days to termination.

The officer’s lawyer, Stuart London, argued that the NYPD, who conducted an internal investigation, should be handling the prosecution instead of the watchdog agency. London also threw the department under the bus last month when he cited a report by the NYPD’s chief surgeon, who ruled that Garner was never put in a chokehold.

“It basically exonerates Officer Pantaleo,” London said of the report. “It indicates that he did not use a chokehold. It indicates that the prior compromised cardiovascular system of [Garner] really is what lead to his demise. And it couldn’t be more positive for Officer Pantaleo.”

The attorney said he plans on calling 10 witnesses to the stand next week, including the training officer who taught Pantaleo an approved technique called the “seat-belt hold,” which he said critics confused with a chokehold, AP reported.

Pantaleo’s trial is set to begin on Monday.

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