Eric Garner

New York Finally Gets Around to Maybe Holding Police Officers Responsible for Eric Garner's Killing

Four years later, they might actually fire somebody.


Garner protest sign
Pacific Press/Sipa USA/Newscom

Four years ago this week, police officers in New York choked Eric Garner to death after he passively refused to cooperate while they arrested him for selling black-market loose cigarettes.

Garner's unnecessary and avoidable death inspired outrage, but so far there have been few consequences for the cops involved. The Department of Justice has been investigating whether the police violated Garner's civil rights. Because of the federal investigation, the city refrained from moving forward with its own disciplinary proceedings against the officers involved.

But yesterday, after the Department of Justice said it didn't object to the city moving on the issue, the New York Police Department (NYPD) announced that Officer Daniel Pantaleo, responsible for the deadly chokehold, and Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, his supervisor, will face an administrative trial next year.

NYPD critics and Garner's family are upset that the city waited years to do anything. Whatever the Justice Department decides to do should have no bearing on whether the NYPD continues to employ these officers. If the Justice Department charges them, then it charges them. That has nothing to do with whether they should keep their jobs.

When The New York Post asked New York Mayor Bill de Blasio about this, he claimed that when other cities have quickly fired misbehaving police, the incidents were "exceedingly clear." He added, "I think, each one has to be looked at in its own individuality, because sometimes there's a situation where there's not a lot of doubt."

They've had four years to look at it. And the incident was captured on video. Let me politely suggest that the more likely explanation is that the city was hoping the Department of Justice would make the hard call so the NYPD wouldn't have to come into conflict with New York's powerful police unions.

It's not clear whether the public will learn the outcome of the internal trial. New York State has some the country's worst transparency rules when it comes to police conduct, including laws that conceal the contents of disciplinary records. Pantaleo's history as an officer was being kept secret, but information was leaked last year to ThinkProgress that showed he had a history of bad behavior. New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board has recommended that Pantaleo be fired for Garner's death.

A grand jury previously declined to indict Pantaleo for Garner's death. This administrative trial is all about whether he'll keep his job, not whether he'll go to jail.