The mother of NYPD chokehold victim Eric Garner shared a courtroom Thursday with his accused killer as a departmental trial date was finally set in her son’s tragic 2014 death.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board’s Administrative Prosecution Unit announced a May 13 start date in the contentious case that launched national protests after Garner died while gasping “I can’t breathe” on a Staten Island sidewalk.
Accused Officer Daniel Pantaleo slipped in and out of the One Police Plaza hearing without saying a word, while Garner’s mother Gwen Carr said the session left her conflicted.
“It was mixed emotions,” she said of the hearing. “I felt sort of numb being in the room with my son’s murderer.”
A 10-day trial was expected, with each side calling about 13 witnesses. The anticipated length is more than triple the typical CCRB hearing of three days or less.
“For justice for Eric Garner and for every New Yorker whose faith in our police department we must fight to enhance, our prosecutors stand ready to prosecute Officer Pantaleo,” said CCRB Chair Fred Davie.
“At trial, we will bring evidence to court proving Officer Pantaleo’s excessive and unnecessary use of force.”
Police union head Patrick Lynch joined Carr and Pantaleo in the packed courtroom where both sides called for a conclusion of the probe with the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death just seven months away. He sat just a few seats away from Carr.
“This case has been pending for more than four years, and the family deserves closure as does Officer Pantaleo,” said his attorney Stu London.
Carr expressed similar feelings: “You know the family is in pain. It’s been 4½ years with no justice.”
Panteleo was kept sequestered in a room off the courtroom before the hearing, entering quietly in a dark suit and flanked by members of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. He bolted immediately afterward, leaving without any comment.
“No justice, no peace!” chanted protesters outside the Lower Manhattan building.
The officer remains on desk duty and still faces the possibility of a federal civil rights charge in the death. London said Pantaleo has long wanted to have his say on what happened during his July 27, 2014, showdown with Garner, 43, a Staten Island grandfather who suffered from asthma.
PBA head Lynch, shouting over the demonstrators, questioned if Pantaleo could get a fair shake.
The death of Eric Garner and the events that followed
“What we see in this process is that we’re having a trial in front of a kangaroo court,” said Lynch. “… In retrospect, PO Pantaleo used the least amount of force necessary to affect this arrest.”
The PBA released a statement asserting the Garner autopsy, previously unavailable to Pantaleo’s defense team, would prove the officer’s innocence. The results indicate that the cause of death was not strangulation of the neck from a chokehold, the union said.
The CCRB turned over more than 40,000 pages of evidence to Pantaleo’s legal team.
Pantaleo was charged with applying a banned chokehold on Garner during what started as a routine arrest. London noted his client was accused of both reckless use of the chokehold and intentionally strangling Garner.
“Which is it?” he asked, “Is it reckless or intentional? I need to know the CCRB’s theory of the case.”
Carr is also demanding that the NYPD fire three cops and two sergeants who were present when Garner died. Currently, the only officers facing disciplinary charges are Pantaleo and Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, who was accused of failing to supervise the arrest.
The Department of Justice gave the NYPD permission to proceed with his administrative trial last July.
Adonis will also stand trial at 1 Police Plaza. She showed up at the scene — Bay St. on Staten Island — after Pantaleo had already pulled Garner to the ground. She was present as the dying man said “I can’t breathe” 11 times while face-down on the pavement.
Despite the international outcry over Garner’s death, a Staten Island grand jury did not indict Pantaleo and the bar for a federal indictment remains high. Prosecutors would have to prove the officer willingly set out to violate Garner’s civil rights.