December 8, 2014 5:45 pm

Police Unions Elated By Decision Not to Indict

‘Garner’ Cop Gets Off


PATRICK J. LYNCH: ‘Didn’t intend to take a life.’  

A Staten Island grand jury Dec. 3 declined to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, a black man who suffered a heart attack after officers tackled him when he refused to submit to arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes July 17.

“After deliberation on the evidence presented in this matter, the grand jury found that there was no reasonable cause to vote an indictment,” DA Dan Donovan said in a statement.

Routing Protests

Demonstrators outraged that no indictment was forthcoming staged a “die-in” on the floor of Grand Central Station, stopped traffic on the West Side Highway and gathered at Rockefeller Center in hope of disrupting the lighting of the Christmas tree. Protesters showed up in Times Square and at the 120th Precinct in Staten Island, where the officers involved in the Garner arrest were assigned.

While hundreds were arrested over five days of protests, they appeared to heed pleas by city and national leaders to avoid violence.

“While we are pleased with the grand jury’s decision, there are no winners here today,” said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch. “There was a loss of life that both a family and a police officer will always have to live with.

“It is clear that the officer’s intention was to do nothing more than take Mr. Garner into custody as instructed and that he used the take-down technique that he learned in the academy when Mr. Garner refused. No police officer starts a shift intending to take another human being’s life, and we are all saddened by this tragedy.”

Mullins: Good Decision

“I think the grand jury did a good job,” said Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association. “If someone wants to break the law that should not be tolerated.”

An amateur cell-phone video of the police action against Mr. Garner became a flashpoint for critics in the case.

Mr. Garner, 43, a 350-pound giant of a man who suffered from asthma and high blood pressure, was approached by a plainclothes team from the 120th Precinct. They said they were arresting him. He said he was tired of what he called police harassment and was not going. “This ends today,” said Mr. Garner, who had been arrested more than 30 times previously for a variety of minor offenses.

When it became clear he was not cooperating, the officers, most of whom were significantly shorter than Mr. Garner, moved in on him. Officer Pantaleo grabbed him by the neck in an effort to force him to the ground. Mr. Garner went down, shouting repeatedly, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” He died shortly after the takedown.

Sole Officer Targeted

It was Officer Pantaleo, 29, whom the grand jury declined to indict; he was the only officer in its sights. After Mr. Garner’s death, the eight-year police veteran was placed on restricted duty without his badge and gun. He made his first comment on the case through the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association after the announcement about the indictment.

“I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” he said in a statement. “It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”

“Hell, no!” responded Esaw Garner, Mr. Garner’s widow, at an appearance in Harlem with the family adviser, the Rev. Al Sharpton, by her side. “The time for remorse for the death of my husband was when he was yelling to breathe.”

The Garner family and other police critics charge that Mr. Pantaleo used a chokehold, which is banned by the NYPD, and thereby caused Mr. Garner’s death. Al O’Leary, a spokesman for the PBA, and Mr. Mullins, president of the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association, said they stood by earlier statements that Mr. Pantaleo did not use a chokehold.

A ‘Tipping’ Maneuver

Mr. Pantaleo told the grand jury that he used a wrestling move he had learned in the Police Academy, his lawyer, Stuart London, told the New York Times. The officer testified that he hooked an arm underneath one of Mr. Garner’s arms and circled his torso with the other, the Times said. The intent of the move is to “tip the person so they lose their balance and go to the ground,” Mr. London said.

During their struggle, Mr. Garner’s body pressed Mr. Pantaleo against a store window.

“He testified that the glass buckled while Garner was up against him and he was against the glass,” Mr. London said. “He was concerned that both he and Garner would go through that glass.”

“On the video, the two men toppled to the ground, but the arm around Mr. Garner’s neck did not appear to move,” the Times story said. “Officer Pantaleo told jurors he continued to hold on to Mr. Garner as he struggled to maintain his balance. He said he wanted to make sure that Mr. Garner was not injured by other officers rushing in, as well as to prevent Mr. Garner from possibly biting one of them.”

The video, however, showed him pressing Mr. Garner’s face into the pavement.

Mr. Pantaleo heard Mr. Garner’s pleas about not being able to breathe and “that’s why he attempted to get off as quickly as he could,” Mr. London said. The article noted that Mr. Pantaleo did not seem to be in a hurry to release Mr. Garner.

Mayor: Keep It Peaceful

“Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest. We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way.”

He spoke in personal terms of his fears for his biracial teenage son, Dante. “We’ve had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him,” he said.

President Obama said Americans must recognize “this is an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a Native American problem—this is an American problem when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law.”

Civil-rights and police-reform groups criticized the decision not to indict.

‘Where’s Accountability?

“The failure of the Staten Island grand jury to file an indictment in the killing of Eric Garner leaves New Yorkers with an inescapable question: How will the NYPD hold the officers involved accountable for his death?” asked New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman. “And what will Commissioner Bratton do to ensure that this is the last tragedy of its kind?

“Unless the Police Department aggressively deals with its culture of impunity and trains officers that they must simultaneously protect both safety and individual rights, officers will continue to believe that they can act without consequence.”

“No indictment sends a clear message that police are above the law,” said Priscilla Gonzalez of Communities United for Police Reform.

“The Staten Island grand jury’s decision is painful and disturbing proof that a broken and biased criminal-justice system persists in our country and in our city in ways that jeopardize the lives and well-being of people of color every day,” said Robert Gangi, executive director of the Police Reform Organizing Project.