Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who was fired in August for using a department-prohibited chokehold that contributed to the death of an unarmed Eric Garner in 2014, has filed a lawsuit to get his job back.
The lawsuit, which was filed by Pantaleo’s lawyer Stuart London in Manhattan civil court on Wednesday, argues that the former officer’s firing was “arbitrary and capricious.” London also told the New York Post that he hopes the state will find that an NYPD judge was wrong to recommend that Pantaleo be fired earlier this year following an administrative trial.
When NYPD commissioner James O’Neill fired Pantaleo, he pointed to NYPD Judge Rosemarie Maldonado’s August recommendation that the officer lose his job for recklessly using the chokehold and for making an “implausible and self-serving” argument as to why he had done so. Garner’s death first drew national attention in July 2014 when a video taken by bystander Ramsey Orta showed Pantaleo using a prohibited chokehold on Garner, after the officer had approached the man for allegedly selling untaxed loose cigarettes.
The firing meant that Pantaleo was no longer eligible to receive his pension, but he would be given any money that he had already paid into it.
News of the new lawsuit was praised by some police groups in New York City, including the Sergeants Benevolent Association. “He never should of been fired! He was scapegoated by a cowardice police commissioner,” the group tweeted on Tuesday. “The real story as to why officers were making an arrest for loose cigarettes was never told.”
The suit has been strongly criticized by police reform advocates who argue that Pantaleo should not get his job back and should actually face more punishment for Garner’s death. In recent months, Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, has also called for other officers involved in Garner’s 2014 arrest to be disciplined and held accountable.
”Pantaleo’s decision to seek his reinstatement is not only disrespectful to the Police Commissioner and NYPD, but also the Garner family,” Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said in a statement. “He has shown no contrition or acknowledgment of his violent actions that ultimately killed Eric Garner.”
It took years for Pantaleo to face discipline for the 2014 arrest that led to Garner’s death
The August termination marked the first serious punishment that Pantaleo had received since Eric Garner’s death on Staten Island in 2014. Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, died of cardiac arrest following the 2014 encounter and a city medical examiner argued that the pressure placed on his neck — as well as the subsequent pressure on his chest after officers forced him to the ground — played a role in his death. Garner’s cries of “I can’t breathe” were recorded by a bystander and became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Months after Garner’s death, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges, a decision that was heavily criticized by activists and sparked protests. Just this July, the Department of Justice announced that after years of investigating the incident, the agency would not pursue civil rights charges against him.
The NYPD initially argued that it could not pursue disciplinary action against Pantaleo until a federal investigation into Garner’s death was completed. But in 2018, the NYPD’s Civilian Complaint Review Board announced that Pantaleo would finally receive an administrative trial this year, a process where a judge would hear evidence and recommend if Pantaleo, who had been on desk duty since Garner’s death, should lose his badge. In August, Maldonado recommended that Pantaleo lose his badge for the 2014 incident.
Pantaleo is the only officer who has faced any disciplinary action for Garner’s death. No officers have been indicted and just one other person, NYPD Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, has ever faced the prospect of disciplinary action or punishment related to the case.
Adonis was scheduled to have her own department disciplinary trial this year but it was canceled in late August after she agreed to plead guilty to counts of failing to supervise other officers at the scene on July 2014. The announcement also noted that Adonis would lose 20 vacation days as punishment.