US & Canada

Eric Garner: Chokehold cop 'should be fired', says US judge

Protests were held last month to mark the fifth anniversary of Garner's death Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protests were held last month to mark the fifth year anniversary of Garner's death

A US judge has ruled that a New York police officer should be fired over the death of an unarmed black man whose dying words were "I can't breathe".

Policeman Daniel Pantaleo was accused of using a banned police chokehold on Eric Garner in July 2014, after he resisted arrest for selling cigarettes.

Mr Pantaleo does not face any criminal charges related to the death, which was caught on mobile phone video.

It is now up to the police commissioner to decide whether to fire him.

The death of 43-year-old Garner, after he was stopped for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on the street, became a rallying cry for activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.

On Friday, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado ruled that Mr Pantaleo had used a chokehold - which is banned by the police department - despite his repeated denials that the strangle move had not been employed.

Image copyright NY Daily News
Image caption Eric Garner with wife Esaw

An NYPD statement after the judge's recommendation was revealed said that Mr Pantaleo has been suspended "effective today, as is the longstanding practice in these matters when the recommendation is termination".

A statement from the city's police union blasted the recommendation, calling it "pure political insanity".

The judge "trampled" on the officers "due process rights in order to deliver the result that the grandstanding politicians and protesters demanded", wrote Patrick Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association.

What happens next?

The decision on whether or not to terminate Mr Pantaleo - who has been excoriated in the city's black and Hispanic communities and by Democratic presidential candidates - now falls to Police Commissioner James P O'Neill.

Local media say Mr O'Neill will have to balance the views of elected leaders who have been calling for Mr Pantaleo's firing, and the rank and file police brass who do not want to see one of their own used as a scapegoat.

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Media captionEric Garner death inspires an unlikely police experiment

He will have until the end of August to reach that decision, after prosecutors and defence lawyers respond to the judge's ruling.

There has been speculation that Mr Pantaleo could resign before being formally terminated.

On Thursday, Mr O'Neill told a local radio station that a decision will be made "within the next week or two, and then we'll move forward".

Political implications

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is running for president, has come under fire for his handling of the case. On Wednesday he was interrupted during the Democratic party debates by protesters yelling "fire Pantaleo".

He has not explicitly called for the officer to be fired, saying it is up to the commissioner to decide, but promised in the debate that the Garner family would "get justice" within the next month.

On Friday, he told local radio programme Ask The Mayor that "the most troubling part of this is that the justice department decided to do nothing... the justice system failed here".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Garner's wife Esaw Snipes has warned of "civil unrest"

Esaw Snipes, Garner's widow, warned CNN on Friday that "it's not gonna be pretty" and called for "civil unrest" if the officer was not fired.

"We're not gonna stop," she said.

"I don't know what the next step would be legally, I don't know what the next step would be civilly, I just know that there's gonna be a next step."

How has his family reacted?

In a Twitter thread after the recommendation was announced, Garner's mother Gwen Carr said other officers also deserve to be punished for attempting to cover up the death.

"My son deserves more than recommendations; he deserves justice. New Yorkers deserve to know that police who kill our children and those who try to cover it up will be fired from the NYPD so that they don't get paid with our taxpayer dollars to be a danger to us," she wrote.

Who was Eric Garner?

The 43-year-old was African American and proud of it, to judge from what his heartbroken daughter Erica Snipes told the BBC back in 2014.

"He had me watching Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King," she said.

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Media captionErica Snipes talks about the loss of her father

He had frequent run-ins with the police for years before his controversial death on 17 July 2014 while under restraint on a New York street.

After 30 prior arrests, when he was frequently accused of illegally selling single cigarettes, it seems he had had enough of what he personally regarded as police harassment.

"Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I'm tired of it. It stops today!" he yelled to officers that afternoon, as he refused to be handcuffed.

What happened?

Video of the arrest showed Garner saying "I can't breathe" 11 times as officers pressed him down into the pavement in the city's Staten Island borough.

The father of six, who weighed more than 350lb (160kg), went into cardiac arrest and died en route to the hospital after he was subdued by five police officers.

A city medical examiner ruled that he died from homicide, but that his health - including obesity, heart disease and asthma - also were contributing factors.

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Media captionRacism in the US: Is there a single step that can bring equality?

Two weeks ago, as the Garner family prepared for the fifth anniversary of his death, the US Justice Department announced that they would not bring civil rights charges against Officer Pantaleo.

Federal prosecutors ruled that chokehold was used, but could not determine whether it was intentional.

In 2015, the city of New York reached a settlement with the family for $5.9m (£4.8m) after they brought a wrongful-death lawsuit claiming that Garner was not given sufficient medical aid by emergency officials.

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