The family of Eric Garner, the 43-year-old Staten Island man who was killed by an NYPD officer using a prohibited chokehold almost one year ago, has accepted a $5.9 million settlement offer from the city. Comptroller Scott Stringer announced the settlement last night, saying "we have reached an agreement that acknowledges the tragic nature of Mr. Garner’s death while balancing my office’s fiscal responsibility to the City."
Garner's relatives had until the anniversary of his death, July 17th, to file a lawsuit against the city, and last night's announcement followed earlier reports that they had rejected a $5 million settlement offer. Garner's wife Esaw and other relatives are expected to discuss the settlement at a press conference this morning.
"No sum of money can make this family whole, but hopefully the Garner family can find some peace and finality from today's settlement,” Mayor de Blasio said yesterday. “By reaching a resolution, family and other loved ones can move forward even though we know they will never forget this tragic incident."
Sergeants Benevolent Association head Ed Mullins, meanwhile, had a different take. In an interview with the NY Post (who else?), Mullins described the settlement as "obscene" and "shameful," asking the tabloid's readers, "Where is the justice for New York taxpayers? Where is the consistency in the civil system? In my view, the city has chosen to abandon its fiscal responsibility to all of its citizens and genuflect to the select few who curry favor with the city government." [Translation: AL SHARPTON AL SHARPTON AL SHARPTON.] [Also: AL SHARPTON.]
"Mr. Garner’s family should not be rewarded simply because he repeatedly chose to break the law and resist arrest," Mullins concluded. (Police claim Garner had been selling loose cigarettes outside a Staten Island deli when officers approached him.)
The City Medical Examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, and cited the chokehold as a cause of death. A Staten Island jury declined to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo, who administered the fatal chokehold, and he is still on the job, albeit working desk duty.
The United State's Attorney's office is still investigating the homicide, and state health officials are still investigating the actions of first responders who did not give Garner oxygen at the scene. Earlier this year, the Garner estate reached a private settlement with the hospital that dispatched them, Richmond University Medical Center.
Stringer's settlement was considerably higher than some other famous wrongful-death settlements awarded by the city, including the $3.9 million for the family of Ramarley Graham. But it was considerably less than the $8.75 million awarded to Abner Louima, and slightly less than the $6.4 million settlement for David Ranta, who was imprisoned for 23 years after a wrongful-murder conviction. The Garner settlement is just the latest in a string of high-dollar settlements negotiated by Stringer, ostensibly to save taxpayers the high cost of a trial and a potentially higher jury payout. Garner's estate had sought $75 million.
Still, some wonder of Stringer's determination to settle wrongful death lawsuits has "sidelined" the judgment of the city Law Department. “The determination of appropriate damage levels is a complex, nuanced process,” Victor A. Kovner, a former city corporation counsel, told the Times. “The notion that the comptroller, without the benefit of that experience, seeks to make these resolutions on his own is in my experience grandstanding and against the city’s interest.”