The president of New York’s biggest police union has slammed a judge’s recommendation to fire Officer Daniel Pantaleo over the death of Eric Gardner who lost consciousness and later died shortly after being placed in a chokehold in 2014.
Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch urged the department’s commissioner to ignore administrative judge Rosemary Maldonado’s guidance.
‘He’s done nothing wrong,’ Lynch defiantly declared of Pantaleo's actions. ‘Let’s not worry about what the criminal justice advocates will say tomorrow. That’s not justice. Have the courage to do what’s right.
'Don’t listen to the mobs. Don’t listen to the editorials,' he continued frantically waving a solitary finger. 'You need to listen to the facts.’
Lynch went on to call the recommendation ‘horrendous’, adding that it would be a grave mistake for Police Commissioner James O’Neill to follow it, citing concerns of setting a dangerous precedent.
‘He will lose his police department,’ Lynch warned the commissioner. ‘To say a police officer doing his job was reckless will freeze this police department. The police department is frozen.’
Lynch added that he believes the judge’s advice, if followed, would make officers of the law expendable by 'taking away [their] power'.
‘A police officer has no other choice but to enforce that law,’ Lynch said. ‘We can’t just walk away. It’s not called de-escalation it’s called doing your job.
‘The decision that was passed down today saying this police officer was reckless was ludicrous,’ Lynch said. ‘We’ll be considered reckless every time we put our hands on someone.’
The NYPD PBA President acknowledged the suffering of the Garner family, but said that police officers have also suffered as well.
‘Cops are in the position of protecting themselves rather than protecting you,’ he concluded.
Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, also joined Lynch of stage and expressed his client’s ‘disappointment’ over Maldonado’s opinion.
However, London say’s Pantaleo intends to ‘keep fighting’ and remains ‘quietly optimistic’ that he will retain his job within the department.
‘He wants to fight going forward,’ London said. ‘He was obviously not happy with the decision. He’s a strong individual. He understands this was going to be the toughest road because of politics.’
Rosemarie Maldonado, a deputy police commissioner who oversees disciplinary hearings, reached her verdict after overseeing officer Daniel Pantaleo's disciplinary trial earlier this year.
Maldonado had been tasked with deciding whether Pantaleo used a banned chokehold to take Garner to the ground during a tense confrontation on a Staten Island street.
Pantaleo's lawyers had argued he used an approved 'seat belt' technique to subdue Garner, who refused to be handcuffed after officers accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes.
His legal team will now have about two weeks to submit a response before Police Commissioner James O'Neill makes a final decision on punishment.
Pantaleo had been on desk duty since the 2014 incident.
Videos taken by bystanders showed Garner crying out 'I can't breathe' at least 11 times before he fell unconscious. The medical examiner's office said a chokehold contributed to Garner's death.
Following the announcement, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference where he admitted that the Garner family has been 'failed by this entire process'.
'It has been a very long five years with no sense of closure, no sense of justice,' de Blasio said.
'I hope that this will now bring the Garner family a sense of closure and the beginning of some peace.'
De Blasio said that his administration has worked for the last five years to 'fundamentally change the nature of policing in New York City'.
He noted that after Garner's death, 36,000 officers were retrained to 'deescalate conflict'.
'Safety and fairness must walk hand in hand and I hope today begins the process of restoring some faith in helping people believe that there actually is some accountability and fairness. We have a lot more work to do.
'There can never be another tragedy like this. It's in our power to do something better and to do something different. That is the course we set five years ago and that's the course we will stay on,' the mayor added.
De Blasio would not say whether or not he believed that Pantaleo should be fired.
Fred Davie, the chairman of the review board that served as the prosecutor, said: 'Today's decision confirms what the Civilian Complaint Review Board always has maintained: Officer Daniel Pantaleo committed misconduct on July 17, 2014, and his actions caused the death of Eric Garner,' said Fred Davie, chairman of the review board that served as the prosecutor.
Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, is expected to speak Friday afternoon. Members of Garner's family are also expected to attend a rally with the Rev Al Sharpton.
Tina Luongo, the attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, called out Mayor Bill de Blasio.
'With this ruling, Mayor Bill de Blasio has no more excuses to avoid what his Administration should have done five years ago: he must fire NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo and all the other officers involved in Eric Garner’s killing,' Luongo said in a statement.
'The Mayor’s handling of this entire process has been politically motivated and opaque, and it only served to reinforce mistrust and sow further division between the NYPD and over-policed communities of color.
'Any opportunity for justice was lost by unnecessary secrecy and delay. This Administration’s failure to act has caused tremendous heartache, pain, and trauma that no family should endure and relive on a daily basis. The Mayor must finally do what is moral and just,' Luongo continued.
Last month, the day before the fifth anniversary of Garner's death, federal prosecutors announced they would not bring criminal charges against Pantaleo, 33, following a five-year civil rights investigation.
Richard Donoghue, the US attorney for eastern New York, said that an exhaustive investigation found there is 'insufficient evidence' to prove 'beyond a reasonable doubt' that Pantaleo acted 'willfully' when applying a chokehold.
A senior Justice Department official said Attorney General William Barr ultimately decided not to side with prosecutors in the Justice Department's civil rights division who wanted to charge Pantaleo.
The official said Barr had been briefed multiple times and watched cell phone video of the encounter himself several times.
The medical examiner's office determined that a chokehold contributed to Garner's death, which was ruled a homicide induced by 'compression of neck, compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police'.
Pantaleo initially tried to use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, much larger at 6-foot-2 and 395lbs but ended up wrapping his arm around Garner's neck for about seven seconds as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to the sidewalk.
Chokeholds are banned under police policy.