Review Board Recommends Stiffest Punishment for Officer in Eric Garner Case

A New York City agency that investigates police misconduct has found that the officer who put his arm around the neck of Eric Garner before his death did use a chokehold and restricted Mr. Garner’s breathing, a person familiar with the case said on Friday.

The findings, reported earlier Friday by Rolling Stone, represent an oversight body’s first formal attempt to seek discipline for the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the three years since Mr. Garner died as a result of the violent arrest on a Staten Island sidewalk. But the disciplinary process will now enter another standstill because the Police Department says it will not hold an administrative trial on the allegations until the United States Department of Justice decides whether the officers involved in the case violated Mr. Garner’s civil rights.

The city agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, recommended the stiffest punishment against Officer Pantaleo: departmental charges that could lead to suspension or dismissal. Officer Pantaleo was notified of the recommendation last week. The person familiar with the case requested anonymity to speak about confidential disciplinary matters.

Mr. Garner, 43, was standing outside a beauty supply shop in July 2014 when Officer Pantaleo and his partner, Justin Damico, confronted Mr. Garner and accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes. A cellphone camera held by a friend of Mr. Garner recorded Officer Pantaleo using a chokehold, a tactic prohibited by the Police Department, to subdue him.

Mr. Garner’s final words — “I can’t breathe” — would soon be repeated by protesters around the country. The death of Mr. Garner, who was black, and the role of Officer Pantaleo, who is white, became part of a national outcry over the deaths of unarmed black men during confrontations with the police.

The city medical examiner found that Mr. Garner died from a chokehold and the compression of his chest by police officers. A state grand jury on Staten Island decided not to bring charges in December 2014.

Officer Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, said he would not comment on the allegations until the Department of Justice completed its civil rights investigation. He said review board investigators did not ask to interview Officer Pantaleo.

The review board also declined to comment. Citing a state civil rights law, New York City has recently argued that the disciplinary records of officers should be kept secret. A review board employee was forced to resign this year after releasing Officer Pantaleo’s earlier disciplinary history.

Mr. Garner’s widow, Esaw Snipes, said someone in her family recently received a letter from the review board telling them of the findings. Ms. Snipes said the investigation should have been completed much sooner. Ultimately, she said, it was most important to her family that Officer Pantaleo face criminal charges. Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, who had not been informed of the review board’s findings, said the Police Department should fire Officer Pantaleo and he should serve prison time.

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