The New York Police Department has suspended Daniel Pantaleo — the officer who killed Eric Garner by placing him in a chokehold — hours after an administrative judge recommended he be fired.
The judge's determination and the NYPD commissioner's ultimate decision on Pantaleo's fate are the final steps in the five-year-long case that sparked massive protests across the country, inspired in part by Garner's last words, "I can't breathe!" It turned into a rallying cry in the Black Lives Matter movement.
The judge's findings were submitted to Pantaleo's lawyer, who has two weeks to respond before NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill decides whether to terminate the officer.
"All of New York City understandably seeks closure to this difficult chapter in our City’s history," the NYPD said in a statement. "Premature statements or judgments before the process is complete however cannot and will not be made. In order to protect the integrity of the trial proceedings and conclusion, the NYPD will not comment further until the Police Commissioner makes the final determination.”
The president of the New York City Police Benevolent Association, the police union, tweeted that the judge's determination is "pure political insanity."
Garner, a resident of Staten Island, died on July 17, 2014, after Pantaleo put him in a chokehold, which is prohibited by NYPD policy, during an attempt to arrest him over selling untaxed cigarettes. The city's medical examiner declared Garner's death a homicide, but a grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo.
Last month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it will not press federal charges against Pantaleo, ultimately ending the option for the case to make its way to the courts.
The DOJ said its investigation determined there was “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that Pantaleo violated federal criminal civil rights acts for his role in Garner’s death.
A city medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Garner testified in May that the chokehold began a “lethal cascade” that eventually led to Garner's death by asthma attack. “The chokehold is a significant initial factor of the cascade,” Floriana Persechino said.
Garner had high blood pressure and chronic asthma.
Earlier this week, protesters interrupted the Democratic presidential debate and heckled New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, calling out, "Fire Pantaleo."
"I want the Garner family and every single person hurt by the tragedy of his death to know they are seen and heard. We all watched Eric Garner's dying words. They haunted this nation. He NEVER should have died," de Blasio tweeted after the debate.
During a press conference on Friday, de Blasio called the judge's recommendation a "step toward accountability," but refused to say whether he agrees that Pantaleo should be fired, citing the ongoing legal process.