North America

NYC police officer in 'I can't breathe' case sacked

0:00

The incident stimulated "Black Lives Matter" protests which called for police to be held accountable for the deaths of unarmed African-Americans in custody or facing arrest.

A US police officer was sacked Monday for putting a black man in a banned chokehold just before his death five years ago in a case that fuelled nationwide protests.

New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill told reporters Daniel Pantaleo was dismissed from the force over the death of Eric Garner during an arrest in July 2014.

New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo.
New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo.
AAP

The incident stimulated 'Black Lives Matter' protests which called for police to be held accountable for the deaths of unarmed African-Americans in custody or facing arrest.

Garner's last words, "I can't breathe," became a rallying cry for the demonstrators.

Pantaleo's sacking comes after NYPD Deputy Commissioner and departmental administrative judge Rosemarie Maldonado recommended earlier this month that he be fired.

Mr Pantaleo was suspended pending the decision of Mr O'Neill, who had the final say on the officer's future.

"It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer serve as a New York City police officer," Mr O'Neill said, describing it as "an immediate termination."

He said that it had been a difficult decision, adding that some police officers would be "angry" with him, but he was absolutely sure he had made the correct one.

"Make no mistake about it, this was a tragedy for the Garner family. I fully understand that. Mr Garner was somebody's son, somebody's dad. Everybody in the NYPD understands that," he said.

Four officers attempted to arrest Mr Garner, 43, on suspicion of illegally selling cigarettes on a sidewalk in Staten Island on 17 July, 2014.

In a video recorded by a bystander, which was posted online and went viral, Mr Pantaleo can be seen putting his arm tightly around Mr Garner's neck and driving the much larger suspect into the pavement before releasing him.

'Semblance of justice'

Meanwhile, another officer pressed Mr Garner's head to the pavement.

Mr Garner, who resisted arrest but was unarmed, complained 11 times that he could not breathe.

Mr Garner appeared to lose consciousness, and the father-of-six was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr speaks with the media, saying the department of justice had failed her family.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr speaks with the media, saying the department of justice had failed her family.
Reuters

On July 16, the US Department of Justice determined that Mr Pantaleo would not face federal charges, a decision that Mr Garner's family slammed as an "insult."

The decision came after the victim's family appealed to the Justice Department to consider whether federal criminal or civil rights charges could be brought against one or more of the officers in the case.

A New York state grand jury decided in December 2014 that there was insufficient evidence to support homicide charges against Mr Pantaleo, amid claims that Mr Garner suffered from a heart condition and asthma that could have caused his death.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said Mr O'Neill's decision to fire Mr Pantaleo would bring some relief to Mr Garner's relatives.

"For over five years, the Garner family and communities across the country have waited for justice in the death of Eric Garner," she said in a statement.

"While we will never be able to change the events that transpired or bring Mr Garner back, today, some semblance of justice is finally being served," Mr James added.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch