Tired of waiting on feds, NYPD will probe cops in Eric Garner case
NEW YORK (FOX5NY.COM) - With no end in sight in the U.S. Justice Department's investigation into the death of Eric Garner, the New York City Police Department has decided to move ahead with an internal disciplinary probe of the officers' actions in the incident that unfolded four years ago on Staten Island.
On July 17, 2014, several plainclothes cops confronted Garner, who was selling loose cigarettes on a street. A struggle broke out and Garner died.
Garner's death sparked dozens of protests around the city.
In a letter to a DOJ official, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Lawrence Byrne wrote that the police department held off its disciplinary probe for four years to avoid having any impact on the federal criminal civil rights investigation or possible federal criminal prosecution. But the feds are taking too long.
"Understandably, members of the public in general and the Garner family in particular have grown impatient with the fact that NYPD has not proceeded with our disciplinary proceedings and they have difficulty comprehending a decision to defer to a federal criminal investigation that seems to have no end in sight," Byrne wrote. "The NYPD has come to the conclusion that given the extraordinary passage of time since the incident without a final decision on the U.S. DOJ's criminal investigation, any further delay in moving ahead with our own disciplinary proceedings can no longer be justified."
The NYPD intends to move forward with its internal probe on or after September 1, 2018, unless the DOJ announces an intention to file criminal charges before then, according to Byrne's letter.
A bystander captured the actions of the cops and Garner on cellphone video, which shows Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo putting an arm around Garner's neck and pulling him to the ground. Garner is heard gasping "I can't breathe!" 11 times before losing consciousness. He later died.
Garner's family and others say that Pantaleo used a chokehold to subdue him. The NYPD bans the use of chokeholds.
But Pantaleo has said that he used a maneuver known as a seatbelt, not a chokehold. Police union officials have defended him and his actions.
The city's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner found that Pantaleo's maneuver contributed to Garner's death, but a state grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo.
The NYPD took away Pantaleo's service weapon and assigned him to desk duty.
Federal prosecutors and investigators looking into the case for the better part of four years are split on whether to bring charges, according to reports.
In April, the New York Times reported that a few years ago the Obama administration authorized prosecutors to pursue an indictment. But after Donald Trump was elected president, his administration dialed back investigations against police officers.
In a statement, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said the Justice Department should finish what he calls a "highly irregular fishing expedition" in Pantaleo's case.
"However, that should not trigger a race by the NYPD to reach a pre-determined outcome in its own disciplinary processes," Lynch said. "Police Officer Pantaleo is entitled to due process and an impartial consideration of the facts. If that is allowed to occur, we are confident that he will be vindicated and will finally be able to move forward."
Justice Department officials told the NYPD in the spring that it can move forward with disciplinary proceedings, according to a DOJ spokesperson.
"Mr. Byrne's letter does not have any bearing on the decision-making timeline at the Justice Department, and the Department cannot comment further at this time," a DOJ spokesperson said in an email to Fox 5.