Last Thursday, police approached Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, and accused him of selling illegal cigarettes on the street. Moments later, Garner, who had just come from breaking up a neighborhood fight, lay unresponsive on the ground — in an attempt to arrest him, police cut off Garner’s air supply in a chokehold, a restraining move that led to his untimely death.
Since the tragic incident, watched by thousands in a now viral video, friends, family and supporters of the Staten Island man have come forth to call for the resignation of New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton and a thorough investigation into the excessive force NYPD officers use, especially in particular communities.
And while an investigation is ongoing — Bratton has ordered all 35,000 NYPD officers be retrained in using force and four emergency workers have been suspended without pay — it’s news of the officer who held Garner in a chokehold that is raising questions about Garner’s death and the racial motivation behind it.
Here’s all we know about NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo & his use of excessive force:
- Pantaleo is an 8-year NYPD veteran.
- He has been sued twice within the past two years for alleged civil rights violations.
- In the first suit, two men claim Pantaleo and other officers stopped and strip-searched them in broad daylight while they were driving. The officers handcuffed Darren Collins and Tommy Rice and “Pantaleo and/or Conca pulled down the plaintiffs’ pants and underwear, and touched and searched their genital areas, or stood by while this was done in their presence,” the lawsuit alleged. Eventually the men were criminally charged — according to Collins and Rice’s lawyer, Pantaleo had falsely claimed that he saw crack and heroin in plain view, on the vehicle’s back seat, allowing the officers to arrest everyone in the car. The two men each received $15,000 settlements from the city.
- In the second suit, Rylawn Walker accused Pantaleo of arresting him on Feb. 16, 2012 even though he was “committing no crime at that time and was not acting in a suspicious manner.” That case is still pending.
- All three men were men of color.
- According to Collins and Rice’s attorney, Jason Leventhal, who regularly handles civil rights cases lodged against the NYPD, Pantaleo ignored a “life-or-death rule of the NYPD patrol guide” prohibiting chokeholds, and ignored the department’s use-of-force continuum.
- The tactic, which can be fatal, is prohibited by departmental policy.
According to Section 203-11 of the NYPD Patrol Guide: “Members of the New York City Police Department will not use choke holds. A choke hold shall include, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air.”
- Chokeholds were banned 20 years ago after the death of a young man, Anthony Baez, who was killed in a confrontation with police after a football he was tossing with friends hit a police car. The officer who choked Baez to death was ultimately sentenced to seven years in prison.
- Pantaleo has been stripped of his gun and badge and placed on desk-duty, but at this point it is unclear if he’ll be criminally charged for Garner’s death, or, ultimately convicted.
- Pantaleo does have some support. The president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union, called Pantaleo’s reassignment a “completely unwarranted, knee-jerk reaction.”
We’ll keep you updated with the latest in Pantaleo’s investigation. As always, our thoughts and prayers are with Garner’s family during this difficult time.
SOURCE: SILIVE, NY Daily News, YouTube