The New York Police Department suspended Officer Daniel Pantaleo on Friday after an administrative judge recommended he be fired for his role in the video recorded “I can’t breathe” death of Eric Garner five years ago.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemary Maldonado found Mr. Pantaleo guilty of recklessly using a chokehold, a move banned by the NYPD. She did clear him of a second charge, intentionally restricting Mr. Garner’s breathing.
Mr. Pantaleo has always maintained that he did not use a chokehold on Garner but rather the department-approved seat belt takedown maneuver. An attorney for Mr. Pantaleo had argued that Garner’s death was the result of his health — he weighed 390 pounds and had a history of heart problems.
An NYPD spokesman said Mr. Pantaleo was suspended Friday, which is the longstanding practice when an administrative judge recommends termination. Mr. Pantaleo has been working a desk job without a gun or badge since Garner’s death.
Now the question of whether Mr. Pantaleo can remain on the force rests with NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill. Liberal and civil-rights groups have demanded his firing, while pro-police groups say he was unfairly targeted.
Both Mr. Pantaleo’s attorney and the NYPD’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, which prosecuted the officer, have 10 days to submit their responses to Deputy Commissioner Maldonado’s decision.
Commissioner O’Neill has not publicly said whether he will follow the ruling’s firing recommendation. On Friday, New York media outlets and CNN cited sources saying the commissioner planned to fire the officer.
Phillip Walzak, a spokesman for the NYPD, said in a statement that the commissioner has not seen the report yet but will make a decision this month.
“All of New York City understandably seeks closure to this difficult chapter in our city’s history,” Mr. Walzak said in a statement. “Premature statements or judgments before the process is complete, however, cannot and will not be made.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said the ruling “begins the process of restoring the faith and helping people believe there is accountability and fairness.”
Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, the labor union representing NYPD officers, blasted the decision.
“This decision is pure political insanity,” Mr. Lynch said in a statement. “If it is allowed to stand, it will paralyze the NYPD for years to come.”
The PBA called on the commissioner not to fire Mr. Pantaleo, saying it sends a message that police are “expendable” and are not supported by the city.
The ruling is the first step toward a conclusion on the Staten Island officer’s future. On July 17, 2014, Mr. Pantaleo confronted Garner, who was illegally selling untaxed cigarettes. While restraining the suspect, Mr. Pantaleo employed what appeared to be a chokehold restricting his breathing.
The judge’s ruling comes two weeks after Attorney General William Barr announced that the Justice Department will not seek a federal indictment against Mr. Pantaleo on civil rights charges. A grand jury in New York also declined to press state criminal charges in 2014.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a New York Democrat running for president, demanded the Justice Department inspector general investigate why Mr. Barr declined to prosecute Mr. Pantaleo.
“Justice also means getting to the bottom of why Attorney General Barr ordered the Justice Department not to prosecute the police officer in this needless death, and whether and why the Civil Rights Division was overruled,” said Ms. Gillibrand, calling the decision “disturbing.”
“I urge the DOJ Inspector General to take on this review and make the findings public without delay,” she continued.
But Garner’s daughter, Emerald Snipes, demanded that Commissioner O’Neill fire Mr. Pantaleo.
“That’s all we’re asking,” she said. “Five years is too long. Commissioner O’Neill, do your job. We’ve been waiting for five years, and we don’t want to wait no more.”
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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