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Officer Who Put Eric Garner In Fatal Chokehold Fights To Delay Disciplinary Trial

Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, speaks outside state supreme court yesterday.
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Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, speaks outside state supreme court yesterday. Yasmeen Khan / Gothamist / WNYC

Lawyers for NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo have asked a state supreme court judge to delay his disciplinary trial in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, arguing that the Civilian Complaint Review Board — the city’s police watchdog agency — lacks the jurisdiction to act as the prosecutors in the trial.

The CCRB investigates complaints made by the public and prosecutes the most serious allegations. Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, challenged the validity of the complaint in the Garner case. He argued that the woman who called the CCRB the day after Garner died didn't really witness what happened. London called her story inconsistent and also questioned whether she was a woman or not.

“She made one phone call. That’s it. And the tape is really bizarre. It’s a dude. It’s a guy, I mean, 100 percent,” London said outside the courthouse following Tuesday’s hearing. As he spoke, a few protesters shouted to try and drown him out.

State Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden will hear arguments from both sides on May 9th.

The disciplinary trial is scheduled to begin four days later, on May 13th. Pantaleo faces no criminal charges. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the officer in 2014.

Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, attended the hearing with her daughter. Joining other police reform advocates outside the courthouse, Carr accused Pantaleo of pulling a last-minute stunt to get the trial dismissed.

“I am just appalled,” Carr said. “We as Americans, we as New Yorkers have to stand together and say this is not right.”

Fred Davie, chairman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, issued a statement that also said Pantaleo was making a baseless claim to delay prosecution.

“With closure for the Garner family hanging in the balance, the trial for Officer Pantaleo must proceed as scheduled and not be further delayed by these meritless maneuvers,” Davie said.

Advocates pointed out that justice, in the form of the disciplinary trial, has been slow to come following the day in July 2014 that Garner died at the hands of police while under arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Pantaleo is accused of putting Garner in a chokehold, a banned procedure.

After Garner’s death, the NYPD said it would wait to bring misconduct charges against Pantaleo until the U.S. Department of Justice concluded their investigation into the case. But last year the police department, with the federal probe ongoing, allowed for disciplinary proceedings against Pantaleo to move forward, citing “an extraordinary passage of time since the incident.”

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, under a memorandum of understanding with the police department, will prosecute Pantaleo’s case.

A few weeks ago, Pantaleo sought to have the disciplinary trial dismissed. He brought the claim to an administrative judge at the NYPD, citing a determination by the NYPD’s chief surgeon that Pantaleo did not, in fact, use a chokehold on Garner. The administrative judge denied the request to dismiss the case.

In 2014, the NYC Medical Examiner’s office concluded that Garner’s death was a homicide caused by “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”

Loyda Colon, a co-director of the organization Justice Committee, said on Tuesday that Pantaleo’s attempt to have a state court judge dismiss the trial — this time questioning the CCRB’s authority to prosecute — was a stall tactic.

“It's infuriating that we have to be here today,” Colon said. “It's almost five years since Eric Garner was choked to death by Daniel Pantaleo, while other officers just stood around and did absolutely nothing to help Eric while he screamed ‘I can't breathe’ 11 times.”

One other officer, Sergeant Kizzy Adonis, the supervising officer on the scene after Garner was arrested, was stripped of her gun and badge and put on desk duty in January 2016 but has since been reinstated.

If Pantaleo’s disciplinary trial moves forward, he could ultimately lose his job. He is now on desk duty, earning an annual salary of nearly $120,000.

Yasmeen Khan is a reporter covering crime and policing at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter @yasmeenkhan.

Cindy Rodriguez is the urban policy reporter for New York Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @cynrod.

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