By MARTY GOODMAN
— UPDATE, July 18 — On the 5th anniversary of the police murder of Eric Garner, July 17, the “Justice Department” announced, as the five-year statute of limitations expired, that they would not prosecute Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who had placed a chokehold on Garner, causing his death. The decision to end a civil rights investigation of the case was announced by Attorney General William Barr. Garner’s family was outraged by the decision. Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, said, “This should have been taken care of years ago.”
The 2014 chokehold murder of Eric Garner, an unarmed 43-year-old African American man, by a city cop, Daniel Pantaleo, finally got its first public hearing in June—not in a court of law but at an NYPD hearing!
The charges against Pantaleo were brought by the semi-independent Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). The NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials, Rosemarie Maldonado, has 90 days to decide whether to fire Pantaleo, fine him or dismiss the charges. She cannot jail Pantaleo since it is a non-criminal case. Maldonado’s decision—which does not have to be released to the public!—will be read by Mayor de Blasio’s top cop, James P. O’Neill, who will ultimately rule on Pantaleo.
A possible Justice Department decision on civil rights violations must be rendered before the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death on July 17. It has been reported that the agency has reached a decision, to be announced sometime in July.
Not one of the half-dozen cops present at Garner’s murder in 2014 have served a single day in jail, despite hearing Garner cry out “I can’t breathe” 11 times! The lethal chokehold used by Pantaleo was banned by the NYPD in 1993, but was used with deadly effect on Anthony Baez in 1994 and on other victims of police brutality like Eric Garner. Leaked documents show that citizen complaints against Pantaleo were among the NYPD’s worst (see ThinkProgress.org, March 21, 2017).
Pantaleo and his partner, Justin Damico, were told by commanding officer, Lt. Christopher Bannon, to arrest Garner for selling “loosies,” or single cigarettes, a misdemeanor, at a storefront on Staten Island. But, witnesses say, Garner had just broken up a fight when the cops arrived. Upon learning of the death of Garner, Lt. Bannon texted with racist indifference to arresting cops, “Not a big deal.”
Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, claimed his client was using an approved “seat-belt hold.” However, Inspector Richard Dee, head of training at the New York City Police Academy, testified that Pantaleo’s action was “the definition of a choke hold.” Outrageously, London implied that Garner caused his own death by not moving when ordered by police! An additional video showed that all of the cops and an EMS crew left Garner lying on the ground for several minutes without attempting resuscitation or using available oxygen.
Anti-racist activists packed the courthouse and maintained a noisy picket line outside the hearings in lower Manhattan where well-attended press conferences were held. Speaking after the concluding session on June 6, Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, said that the hearing sends “a clear message that Black lives do not matter.”
Pantaleo is now on desk duty, with 35% more in earnings (N.Y. Daily News). He was present in the courtroom but refused to testify and thereby submit to cross-examination by CCRB attorney Suzanne O’Hare. His lawyer, Stuart London, said Pantaleo would be “reckless” to take the stand because the Justice Department is still investigating.
After almost five years, President Barack Obama, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Donald Trump allowed Pantaleo to keep his job after the entire world saw him choke Garner on a cell-phone video!
In 2015, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued a $5.9 million check to the Garner family, saying that the payout was “in the best interests of all parties.” The police union denounced the settlement. The payment was made by the city without conceding liability, which insulated New York’s power structure from a drawn-out court suit that would further expose the racist NYPD and “progressive” Mayor de Blasio’s cynical inaction on police violence.
Phony “socialist” De Blasio campaigned for mayor on reforming racist police practices, yet refused to fire Pantaleo, merely calling Garner’s death a “terrible tragedy” for all concerned—despite compelling video evidence!
Ramsey Orta, the quick-thinking activist who vide-oed Pantaleo choking Garner, was arrested three weeks later on weapons charges. He was released on bail in April 2015 and rearrested in 2016 on drug and weapons charges and sentenced to four years. Orta says that what happened to him is retaliation for the video. Orta says he’s endured harassment and beatings.
Orta has been in solitary confinement at least four times. Orta’s fiancé, Deja Richardson, told Socialist Action that he is currently in solitary on a 90-day sentence. Orta was thrown back into solitary following his testimony against Daniel Pantaleo via video from Groveland Correctional facility in upstate New York. His release date is December 2019. It remains an outrage that Ramsey Orta—a hero—is the only person to be jailed in the Eric Garner case!
(Letters of support for Ramsey Orta should be addressed to: Ramsey Orta, Ramsey Orta 16A4200, Collins Correctional Facility, Middle Road P.O. Box 340 Collins N.Y. 14034. Your return address and Orta’s number are critical since his prison changes. Send no cash. Prison authorities will read all letters. Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In December 2014, a closed-door grand jury on the Garner case was held in the conservative stronghold of Staten Island and led by Republican District Attorney, Dan Donovan. The grand jury decided on Dec. 3 not to proceed to a trial, provoking large, militant protests in New York City and across the U.S.
Grand jury hearings are almost always prosecuted by white attorneys who decide on the evidence and witnesses and are not subject to cross examination. Politicians like Donovan depend on cops as witnesses in other cases. If prosecutors are seen by racist police unions as anti-cop, it could mean trouble prosecuting cases. The Garner grand jury, its testimony sealed, was denounced as a sham, especially given the video evidence.
James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, said, “There is no question that a grand jury will do precisely what the prosecutor wants, virtually 100% of the time.” Whatever the outcome, we must remain alert and ready to mobilize. Fire and jail Pantaleo! Jail ’em all! Justice for Eric Garner!