Chokehold cop should be fired, says US judge

Protests were held last month to mark the five-year anniversary of Garner's deathImage copyright
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Protests were held last month to mark the five-year anniversary of Garner’s death

A US judge has ruled that a New York police officer should be fired over the death of an unarmed black man whose dying words were “I can’t breathe”.

Policeman Daniel Pantaleo was accused of using a banned police chokehold on Eric Garner in July 2014, after he resisted arrest for selling cigarettes.

Mr Pantaleo does not face any criminal charges related to the death, which was caught on mobile phone video.

It is now up to the police commissioner to decide whether to fire him.

The death of 43-year-old Garner, after he was stopped for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on the street, became a rallying cry for activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.

On Friday, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado ruled that Mr Pantaleo had used a chokehold – which is banned by the police department – despite his repeated denials that the strangle move had not been employed.

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NY Daily News

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Eric Garner with wife Esaw

An NYPD statement after the judge’s recommendation was revealed said that Mr Pantaleo has been suspended “effective today, as is the longstanding practice in these matters when the recommendation is termination”.

What happens next?

The decision on whether or not to terminate Mr Pantaleo – who has been excoriated in the city’s black and hispanic communities and by Democratic presidential candidates – now falls to Police Commissioner James P O’Neill.

Local media say Mr O’Neill will have to balance the views of elected leaders who have been calling for Mr Pantaleo’s firing, and the rank and file police brass who do not want to see one of their own used as a scapegoat.

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Media captionEric Garner death inspires an unlikely police experiment

He will have until the end of August to reach that decision, after prosecutors and defence lawyers respond to the judge’s ruling.

There has been speculation that Mr Pantaleo could resign before being formally terminated.

On Thursday, Mr O’Neill told a local radio station that a decision will be made “within the next week or two, and then we’ll move forward”.

Political implications

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is running for president, has come under fire for his handling of the case. On Wednesday he was interrupted during the Democratic party debates by protesters yelling “fire Pantaleo”.

He has not explicitly called for the officer to be fired, saying it is up to the commissioner to decide, but promised in the debate that the Garner family would “get justice” within the next month.

On Friday, he told local radio programme Ask The Mayor that “the most troubling part of this is that the justice department decided to do nothing… the justice system failed here”.

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Garner’s wife Esaw Snipes has warned of “civil unrest”

Esaw Snipes, Garner’s widow, warned CNN on Friday that “it’s not gonna be pretty” and called for “civil unrest” if the offer is not fired.

“We’re not gonna stop,” she said.

“I don’t know what the next step would be legally, I don’t know what the next step would be civilly, I just know that there’s gonna be a next step.”

Who was Eric Garner?

The 43-year-old was African American and proud of it, to judge from what his heartbroken daughter Erica Snipes told the BBC.

“He had me watching Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King,” she said. “He would be very proud of me,” she added, wiping away tears.

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Media captionErica Snipes talks about the loss of her father

He had frequent run-ins with the police for years before his controversial death on 17 July while under restraint on a New York street.

After 30 prior arrests, when he was frequently accused of illegally selling single cigarettes, it seems he had had enough of what he personally regarded as police harassment.

“I’m tired of it,” he said that afternoon as police accosted him again. “This stops today.”

What happened?

Video of the 17 July 2014 arrest showed Garner saying “I can’t breathe” 11 times as officers pressed him down into the pavement in the city’s Staten Island borough.

The father of six, who weighed more than 350lb (160kg), went into cardiac arrest and died en route to the hospital after he was subdued by five police officers.

“Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today!” he yelled to officers, as he refused to be handcuffed.

A city medical examiner ruled that he died from homicide, but that his health – including obesity, heart disease and asthma – also were contributing factors.

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Two weeks ago, as the Garner family prepared for the five year anniversary of his death, the US Justice Department announced that they would not bring civil rights charges against Officer Pantaleo.

Federal prosecutors ruled that chokehold was used, but could not determine whether it was intentional.

In 2015, the city of New York reached a settlement with the family for $5.9m (4.8m£) after they brought a wrongful-death lawsuit claiming that Garner was not given sufficient medical aid by emergency officials.

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