The New York Police Department has fired officer Daniel Pantaleo, more than five years after he killed Eric Garner by placing him in a chokehold.
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill announced the decision on Monday, saying Pantaleo's termination is effective immediately.
"It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer serve as a New York City police officer," O'Neill said.
Garner, a father of five, died after Pantaleo used a prohibited chokehold to restrain him on July 17, 2014.
"We have finally seen justice done," said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a press conference Monday afternoon. "Today in our city we ended a chapter that has brought our people so much pain and so much fear over this last five years."
O'Neill's decision came after the New York City's Civilian Complaint Review Board filed administrative charges against Pantaleo in 2018.
"Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s termination from the New York City Police Department does not make the death of Eric Garner any less harrowing," said CCRB chair Fred Davie in a statement. "But it is heartening to know that some element of justice has been served."
An NYPD disciplinary trial recommended Pantaleo lose his job, but the decision was O'Neill's to make.
"In carrying out the court's verdict in this case, I take no pleasure," O'Neill said.
The investigation focused on the chokehold. Deputy Commissioner Rosemarie Maldonado found that Pantaleo "consciously disregarded the substantial and unjustifiable risk" of a chokehold and could have used a different method of restraining Garner once he was on the ground — but chose not to, O'Neill said.
The chokehold caused Garner to have an asthma attack and go into cardiac arrest, and he died.
Pantaleo admitted in the disciplinary hearing that he was aware chokeholds were prohibited, O'Neill said, and NYPD recruits are trained in the dangers of applying pressure to people's necks when trying to restrain them.
"An officer's choices and actions, even made under extreme pressure, matter," said the commissioner.
For years, members of Garner's family, particularly his mother and daughters, have fought for justice and for the NYPD officer to be held accountable. His oldest daughter, Erica Garner, who became a political activist and organizer against police brutality after her father's death, died from a heart attack in 2017 at age 27.
"Commissioner O’Neill, I thank you for doing the right thing. I truly, sincerely, thank you for firing the officer," said Emerald Snipes Garner, Garner's youngest daughter. Snipes Garner said she will continue to push for congressional hearings into her father's death. Federal authorities decided in July not to pursue any charges, ensuring no charges were ever pressed against Pantaleo.
When a grand jury decided in December 2014 not to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges, protests were held across the country for multiple nights. Garner's last words, "I can't breathe," turned into a rallying cry in the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Today is a day of reckoning but can also be a day of reconciliation," O'Neill said.
The mayor spoke about how the police department had changed in the years since Garner's death, and how the incident affected how New Yorkers viewed the police.
"Our officers are here to protect us, to keep us safe and yet we watched a man die, an unarmed man," said de Blasio, who is currently running to be the Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential election.
"It caused so many people to ask, 'What if that was my brother right there in that situation, what if that was my son, what if that was my father, what if that was me?'" said the mayor. His son, Dante de Blasio, who is now a paid analyst on his father's presidential campaign, appeared in advertisements promising an end to racist policing practices during de Blasio's mayoral run.
But the mayor noted that the NYPD had stepped up, when DOJ failed to, and conducted a "fair and impartial trial" on one of its own.
Pantaleo will lose his police pension, O'Neill said, adding that he expects many police officers will be frustrated at him for his decision but that he believes it is the right thing.
"If I was still a cop, I'd probably be mad at me," O'Neill said. The chief served as a beat cop for 34 years, and said he empathized with the split-second decision involved.
Pantaleo's lawyer told the New York Post on Monday afternoon that the officer plans to sue the NYPD in an attempt to get back his job.
"Had I been in Officer Pantaleo's situation, I may have made similar mistakes," O'Neill said.
The police commissioner also noted the tremendous impact Garner's death had on his grieving loved ones.
"He should have decided against resisting arrest, but a man with a family lost his life and that is an irreversible tragedy," O'Neill said.
Rosemarie Maldonado's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.