Four years after Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by a police officer in Staten Island, the New York Police Department says it will pursue disciplinary actions against officers involved in the case. Police had postponed the move out of deference to a Justice Department inquiry.
The federal criminal investigation “seems to have no end in sight,” Deputy Commissioner Lawrence Byrne wrote in a letter to the civil rights division of the Justice Department, announcing his agency’s intentions to pursue its own case – and giving federal officials a new deadline to act this summer.
The events leading up to Garner’s death were captured on video, with him repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” as several officers swarmed him. Police had approached Garner out of suspicion that he was selling untaxed cigarettes on the sidewalk.
Weeks after Garner died, the New York City medical examiner said he had been a victim of homicide, naming asthma and heart disease as contributing factors.
Byrne wrote, “Understandably, members of the public in general and the Garner family in particular have grown impatient with the fact that NYPD has not proceeded with our disciplinary hearings and they have difficulty comprehending” the department’s decision to put off its own inquiry.
The NYPD notice comes nearly seven months after Garner’s daughter, Erica — who became an activist after the death of her father — died at the end of 2017. Erica Garner, 27, had suffered a heart attack that led to brain damage. Last August, she gave birth to a boy whom she named after her father.
The NYPD is giving the Department of Justice until the end of August to publicly announce its decisions about potential criminal charges in Garner’s death. It will move ahead with its own proceedings in early September.
Any further delay can’t be justified, Byrne said, citing “the extraordinary passage of time” since Garner died.
In late 2014, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who used a chokehold on Garner. NYPD policy prohibits use of the chokehold technique.
Nearly a year after Garner’s death, the city of New York paid $5.9 million to settle a lawsuit from his family.