On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was confronted by NYPD officers on a Staten Island street corner for allegedly selling single loose cigarettes. One of those officers, Daniel Pantaleo, placed Garner in a prohibited chokehold that ultimately killed him. That chokehold resulted in Garner’s dying plea — “I can’t breathe” — which became a rallying cry for those protesting police brutality across the nation.
Pantaleo was put on administrative leave following Garner’s death in July 2014, and has remained on leave for the past five years. The following month, in August 2014, the New York City medical examiner's office had ruled Garner's death a homicide in which Garner succumbed to a fatal asthma attack triggered by the officer's chokehold.
Over five years later, and after widespread protest by Black Lives Matter activists and other people, Pantaleo was fired.
New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill announced the decision on Monday, August 19. In a press conference, he said that Pantaleo “can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer” after it was determined that he violated department policy by performing that chokehold, CNBC reports.
“The unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own,” O’Neill said at a press conference on Monday. “Therefore I agree with the deputy commissioner of trial’s legal findings and recommendations. It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”
This decision comes just two weeks after a police administrative judge found Pantaleo guilty of violating a department ban on chokeholds, according to the New York Times. The judge recommended Pantaleo’s termination and found that Pantaleo was “untruthful” during interviews and “recklessly used force” on Garner, the Daily Beast reported. It also comes nearly a month after the second Democratic Democratic primary debates in Detroit, Michigan, in which protestors called upon New York City mayor Bill de Blasio to fire the officer by chanting “Fire Pantaleo” and “I can’t breathe.”
Under the City Charter and state law, according to the Times, the decision to fire Officer Pantaleo belonged to Commissioner O’Neill, not the mayor. Later in the debate, de Blasio addressed the issue by saying the city of New York would be addressing whether or not to fire Pantaleo within the next 30 days, since he had been previously held back from acting by the Justice Department, which was investigating whether to press federal charges against Pantaleo (they ultimately decided not to, despite plenty of recommendation to do so).
Pantaleo was fired 19 days after that statement.