NEW YORK — The New York Police Department has yet to disclose the names of instructors who trained an officer accused in the 2014 chokehold death of an unarmed black man, complicating preparations for his May disciplinary trial, a police watchdog agency said Thursday.
Suzanne O'Hare, a Civilian Complaint Review Board lawyer prosecuting the case, told an administrative judge that the NYPD's lack of clarity could mean having up to 50 witnesses testify at Officer Daniel Pantaleo's trial in the death of Eric Garner.
Because the NYPD has not responded to a request to identify Pantaleo's specific instructors, O'Hare said she was submitting two witness lists — a primary list of 17 people and a supplemental list containing the names of 33 people who were employed as instructors during the times Pantaleo received training.
A message seeking comment was left with the NYPD.
Pantaleo, who is white, is charged with reckless use of a chokehold and intentional use of a chokehold in Garner's July 2014 death in Staten Island. If convicted, he could face punishment ranging from the loss of vacation days to firing from the department.
Pantaleo, 33, was stripped of his gun and badge and placed on desk duty after the event. He made nearly $98,000 last year, according to public records. He did not attend Thursday's hearing.
Pantaleo's trial is scheduled to begin May 13 and is expected to last about two weeks.
The case could hinge on testimony about his training on use of force, both at the police academy in 2006 and as he prepared for undercover work in 2008.
Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, has said the officer used a takedown move taught by the police department, not a banned chokehold, and will be vindicated.
London identified one of Pantaleo's instructors as Sgt. Russell Jung and said he planned to call him as a witness. Jung, a retired training supervisor, testified before the grand jury that declined to indict Pantaleo in December 2014, London said.
A message seeking comment was left for Jung.
Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, could be heard on an amateur video shouting "I can't breathe!" as Pantaleo placed his arm around his neck after officers stopped him for selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner, who had asthma, suffered a heart attack in an ambulance and was pronounced dead at a hospital.
His mother, Gwen Carr, attended Thursday's hearing and afterward said other police officers and supervisors involved in his arrest should also be disciplined.
The NYPD decided to go forward with the case against Pantaleo last year as it ran out of patience with the federal government's indecision about bringing a criminal case. Federal prosecutors have until July to file civil rights charges against Pantaleo.
Pantaleo's union, the Police Benevolent Association, said Thursday that the maneuver he used on Garner "has been mislabeled a 'chokehold' by the uninformed and by activists" and that his department trial "simply should not be happening."
Pantaleo "did nothing wrong and should not be on trial for doing his job the way he was trained to do it," union president Patrick Lynch said, blaming Garner's "extremely poor health and severely compromised cardiovascular system" for his death.
"The officers involved did not hit with their fists or batons, nor did they draw their weapons to gain compliance," Lynch said in a statement. "Mr. Garner was taken to the ground using the minimum amount of force by employing a maneuver taught in the police academy that has been used countless times with no negative physical impact on the arrestees."