One day after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, a New York judge scheduled an inquiry into the city’s handling of Eric Garner’s 2014 death on Staten Island. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose administration sought to delay the inquiry, could be forced to testify at the proceedings, now tentatively scheduled for July 19.
Like Floyd, Garner’s death in police custody was filmed; on the tape he can be heard telling police “I can’t breathe.” The video captured NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo holding Garner in a chokehold, the use of which was banned by the NYPD at the time. (The practice has since been criminalized as well.) Pantaleo was fired by the police department, and, last month, he lost a lawsuit to have his job reinstated.
But a grand jury ultimately declined to indict Pantaleo for his role in Garner’s death. Unlike Chauvin’s trial, the grand jury’s investigation into Pantaleo’s conduct was secret, and efforts to force the release of transcripts of the proceedings to the public have failed.
For seven years Garner’s family — including his daughter, Erica, an activist for police reform who died in 2017 — have been denied access to fundamental information about the circumstances of his death, lawyers for the family say. They hope the inquiry, now set for July, will provide a chance to get some of those answers about how the city failed to prevent Garner’s death, and whether it actively covered up those failings.
The NYPD, for instance, has never identified all of the officers at the scene of Garner’s death, nor has the city has admitted to any mistakes the police might have made in stopping, arresting or using force against Garner. The family also wants answers about the failure to provide medical care to Garner at the scene, and how Garner’s arrest history and autopsy report were later leaked to the press.
Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill, as well as O’Neill’s deputy, Kevin Richardson, and fire commissioner Daniel Nigro are among the high-profile city officials who could be called to testify at the inquiry. The de Blasio administration sought to delay the inquiry, which Garner’s family has been seeking since 2019; the appellate division of the supreme court rejected that request in March.
“Mayor de Blasio tweeted about the horrific killing of Daunte Wright, saying ‘we need a full investigation into what happened’ and we absolutely do. But Mayor de Blasio is calling for investigations in other cities while delaying and blocking the investigation into my son’s killing that happened right here in Staten Island,” Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr said in a statement released by Communities United For Police Reform, one of the groups demanding answers from the city last week. “My family and New Yorkers deserve answers. I’m glad it looks like the judicial inquiry is moving forward for July, and we’re still calling on de Blasio to stop the delay tactics, drop his appeal, and fire Officer Justin D’Amico, Lt Christopher Bannon and others.”