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July 19, 2019

Letter to the Editor

By Patrick J. Lynch

The Death of Eric Garner: Assessing Blame

Your July 17 editorial “Why Is Eric Garner’s Killer on the Force?” does not serve the interests of justice. Instead, it deepens the wounds that this case has inflicted on police officers and the communities we serve.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo did not choose to “escalate an encounter,” as you suggest. In fact, the video of the incident shows that Officer Pantaleo moved to effect the arrest only after a protracted period of de-escalation, in which Mr. Garner made it clear he was not going to cooperate.

Nor was it Officer Pantaleo’s choice to take enforcement action “over a minor violation.” That directive came from the highest levels of the New York Police Department, in response to community complaints. You have also ignored the testimony of Officer Pantaleo’s training sergeant at the N.Y.P.D. disciplinary hearing that Officer Pantaleo attempted to use two approved takedown maneuvers, the lowest level of physical force possible, while placing Mr. Garner under arrest.

And Officer Pantaleo did not kill Eric Garner — the City of St. Louis medical examiner, who was called as an expert witness in the disciplinary trial, testified that Mr. Garner’s tragic death was the result of his underlying heart disease. These are among the facts that the Justice Department highlighted when announcing its decision not to file charges. The N.Y.P.D. trial commissioner and police commissioner must base their decision on the same body of evidence, which does not support your call for Officer Pantaleo’s termination.