NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill on Monday. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert
ames O'Neill stood before reporters at One Police Plaza Monday and reminded them that he had spent 34 years as a uniformed NYPD cop, although Monday it fell to him to fire the officer at the center of a whirlwind that was the death of Eric Garner.
"It's in my DNA, O'Neill said of policing."It's who I am."
"But as police commissioner," he added, "I have to think about the city and the rules and regs in the NYPD."
He had terminated Pantaleo, siding with the department judge who ruled the 13-year veteran had violated departmental policy by using a banned chokehold that ultimately caused the death of Garner in 2014 during an arrest.
Still, the commissioner acknowledged, the dismissal went against his grain.
"If I was a cop right now, I'd probably be mad at me," he said.
A somber O'Neill said he took "no pleasure" in his decision and said he identified with the challenges that a street cop like Pantaleo could encounter. The officer had tried to stop Garner from selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. The confrontation escalated and, a judge ruled, he used a banned chokehold that resulted in Garner's collapse and death.
"I can tell you that had I been in Officer Pantaleo’s situation, I may have made similar mistakes. And had I made those mistakes, I would have wished I had used the arrival of back-up officers to give the situation more time to make the arrest. And I would have wished that I had released my grip before it became a chokehold,” he said.