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NYPD judge recommends officer involved in the death of Eric Garner be fired

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Posted at 11:49 AM, Aug 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-02 13:30:30-04

New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo should be terminated following his controversial involvement in the death of Eric Garner, a departmental administrative judge officially recommended Friday, according to source with direct knowledge of the decision.

NYPD Police Commissioner James O'Neill is expected to follow the recommendation of Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, a senior law enforcement official said. O'Neill's final decision will come this month, an NYPD spokesman said.

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Maldonado's much-awaited recommendation marks the latest internal step in a process that will resolve Pantaleo's future with the NYPD. Officials with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the city agency charged with police oversight, and Pantaleo's attorney now have about two weeks to draft responses. O'Neill gets the final say.

Pantaleo has been suspended pending the commissioner's decision, the NYPD spokesman said.

Maldonado's recommendation results from a spring disciplinary trial in which Pantaleo declined to take the stand to explain his role in Garner's death in July 2014. A key question in the case remains whether Pantaleo used a chokehold, which is banned by the NYPD, against Garner. The officer denies he used the maneuver and has been on desk duty since Garner's death.

Maldonado's decision comes just weeks after Attorney General William Barr declined to bring federal charges against Pantaleo. His job with NYPD also took center stage during Wednesday night's Democratic primary debate, as protesters screamed, "Fire Pantaleo!" while New York Mayor Bill de Blasio shared the stage with other candidates for president.

"There's going to be justice. I have confidence in that," de Blasio said during the debate, adding that Pantaleo's professional fate should be decided within the next 30 days. "For the first time, we are not waiting on the federal Justice Department, which told the city of New York that we could not proceed because the Justice Department was pursuing their prosecution."

Garner's widow on Friday called the handling of the case by de Blasio and city officials "very disheartening and very callus."

"They're just passing the buck. One is blaming the other -- whose responsibility is it, you know, who has the power to do this or do that," Esaw Garner Snipes told CNN before Maldonado's decision was publicly revealed.

Pantaleo "should have been fired right on the spot. I think he should have been fired until the investigation was done. I think he should have been fired, you know, even while the investigation was going on. You know, he was still getting paid, he was getting ... paid and advances, everything that a regular cop would get but being on the beat. The only thing they did was so-called keep him off the street."

Maldonado's decision confirms what the Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, has long maintained: "Officer Daniel Pantaleo committed misconduct ... and his actions caused the death of Eric Garner," the panel's chairman said in a statement.

Evidence presented by CCRB prosecutors was "more than sufficient to prove that Pantaleo is unfit to serve," Chairman Fred Davie said in the statement, which called for O'Neill to fire the officer.

Pantaleo was suspended, effective Friday, said the NYPD spokesman, Phillip Walzak, who called the move "longstanding practice" following a recommendation to terminate an officer. The police commissioner will get a complete report after a comment period for the defense and CCRB, he said.

"All of New York City understandably seeks closure to this difficult chapter in our City's history," Walzak said in a statement, declining further comment.

Meanwhile, the leader of the city's main police union called the decision "purely political insanity."

"If it's allowed to stand, it will paralyze the NYPD for years to come," Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch tweeted .

Pantaleo's job has been in jeopardy since he was caught on video applying what some allege was a chokehold on Garner. The 43-year-old father of six died on July 17, 2014, after police tried to arrest him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes illegally on Staten Island, a crime for which he previously had been arrested.

Garner's friend, Ramsey Orta, recorded the confrontation on his cell phone as it quickly escalated.

In the video, Pantaleo can be seen wrapping one arm around Garner's shoulder and the other around his neck before jerking him back and pulling him to the ground. As Pantaleo forces Garner's head into the sidewalk, Garner can be heard saying, "I can't breathe. I can't breathe."

Federal investigators began examining the circumstances of Garner's death in 2014, after a grand jury in New York declined to indict the Staten Island officer. The city settled with Garner's estate in 2015 for $5.9 million.