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NYPD Officer Involved In The Chokehold Death Of Eric Garner Fired By The Department


The New York City police officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner has been fired. The city's police commissioner terminated Officer Daniel Pantaleo following the recommendation of a police department disciplinary trial. In a video of the 2014 arrest, Garner could be heard saying, I can't breathe. That phrase became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter and others protesting excessive force by police. Reporter Cindy Rodriguez of member station WNYC has been following the story, and she joins me now.


CINDY RODRIGUEZ, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Ailsa.

CHANG: So I understand police commissioner James O'Neill said it was his personal decision to fire Pantaleo. How did he explain why he made that choice?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, Ailsa, he detailed everything that happened on that day in Staten Island five years ago and made it a point to say that Eric Garner was argumentative and noncompliant when officers tried to arrest him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. And he said that Officer Pantaleo acted appropriately up until a certain point. But when the two men fell to the ground, O'Neill said Pantaleo should have let go of Garner's neck, and he didn't. He also said Pantaleo should've waited for backup. O'Neill fired him, but he also reminded people that he was a cop for 34 years. And he said if he had been on patrol that day in Staten Island, he may have made the same mistakes Pantaleo did.


JAMES O'NEILL: Every member of law enforcement in this country that works and keeps this country safe and this city safe looked at that and said, that could possibly be me.

CHANG: And we should be clear here that O'Neill made this decision to fire Pantaleo even though neither state nor federal prosecutors decided to charge Pantaleo with any crime, right?

RODRIGUEZ: Right. That's right. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, and the Justice Department took five years to say they would not bring charges against the officer because they didn't have the evidence to prove intent. Now, this was all very frustrating for the family, who desperately wanted some accountability.

CHANG: And how have members of Garner's family responded today to the firing?

RODRIGUEZ: Garner's daughter, Emerald Snipes-Garner, was relieved by the decision.


EMERALD SNIPES-GARNER: Commissioner O'Neill, I thank you for doing the right thing. I truly, sincerely thank you for firing the officer. Regardless of however you came to your decision, you finally made a decision that should have been made five years ago.

RODRIGUEZ: So the family is still calling for other officers to be fired. They believe some perjured themselves in front of a Staten Island grand jury. And the judge in the disciplinary trial called some of the officers' testimony unreliable.

CHANG: How have NYPD officers - I mean, the rank and file - been responding today? I understand the union had a press conference too.

RODRIGUEZ: The police union believes the decision was purely political. They sent a memo out to their members, which, among other things, advised officers not to make arrests until they contact their supervisor. This is union president Patrick Lynch calling for the police commissioner to be fired.


PATRICK LYNCH: You sent this out. You made the policy. Quit or be fired - not Officer Pantaleo. We were following the rules of the police department and the instructions from the chief of department's office, which is pretty damn hard.

RODRIGUEZ: So they say Officer Pantaleo will sue to get his job back. His termination was effective immediately.

CHANG: That's WNYC's Cindy Rodriguez in New York.

Thanks very much, Cindy.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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