Hundreds march in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on December 13, 2014, after a series of police officer-involved deaths. The rally occurred five months after the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 19 (UPI) -- New York City Police Department Commissioner James O'Neill fired officer Daniel Pantaleo Monday over the controversial choking death of Eric Garner five years ago.
Eric Garner died after officers confronted him for illegally selling cigarettes outside a Staten Island convenience store in 2014. When Garner refused commands, Pantaleo and other officers physically restrained him and Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold that's a violation of NYPD protocol.
O'Neill told reporters Monday Pantaleo's firing was immediate, saying he made the final decision days ago. He said he hadn't yet spoke with the Garner family, but called the decision "very difficult" and Eric Garner's death "a tragedy."
Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, said his client plans to sue O'Neill in an effort to win back his job under a state provision protecting employees from "arbitrary and capricious" firing. If successful, he could regain his job and receive damages and lost wages.
O'Neill said he expected some NYPD officers would be upset with the decision to fire Pantaleo, but emphasized the evidence agreed with a recommendation by NYPD administrative judge Rosemarie Maldonado that the officer be fired.
O'Neill denied a suggestion that he was pressured by Mayor Bill de Blasio to fire the officer, saying it was his decision to make.
Maldonado recommended the firing in a 46-page opinion this month, following an internal affairs trial. Maldonado wrote that she found Pantaleo's explanation for the chokehold "implausible and self-serving."
Emerald Garner, Eric Garner's daughter, said the family would continue to fight for justice.
"I don't want another Eric Garner. I will do everything in my power to never see another Eric Garner," she said during a news conference Monday.
"I don't even want to see another video of a person being choked out. Because it wasn't supposed to happen to him. It's not supposed to happen. I should not be standing here with my brother, fatherless. I should be standing here with my father. But Pantaleo took that away from me on 7/17. Yes, he's fired. But the fight is not over. We will continue to fight."
Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, issued a blistering statement after O'Neill's news conference, saying the commissioner chose to "cringe in fear of the anti-police extremists, rather than standing up for New Yorkers who want a functioning police department, with cops who are empowered to protect them and their families."
"With this decision, Commissioner O'Neill has opened the door for politicians to dictate the outcome of every single NYPD disciplinary proceeding, without any regard to the facts of the case or police officers' due process," he added.
The Justice Department said last month it wouldn't pursue federal civil rights charges against Pantaleo. U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said there was no evidence to indicate Pantaleo intentionally violated the law.
Pantaleo had been on desk duty since Eric Garner's death. His attorneys argued that he applied a takedown hold on Eric Garner, which is allowed by the force, rather than a chokehold.