NEW YORK — Nearly five years after the death of Eric Garner, Officer Daniel Pantaleo stood before an NYPD judge Monday at One Police Plaza on the first day of his disciplinary trial that could determine whether he will remain on the job for his involvement in Garner’s 2014 death.
Monday marked an emotional first day for the Garner family and supporters.
Garner’s mother Gwen Carr and sister Ellisha Garner left the packed hearing room in tears as video was played of the arrest that led to his death where Garner could be heard shouting “I can’t breathe.”
The viral video captured on cellphone in Tompkinsville helped fuel the Black Lives Matter movement and put a national spotlight on debate around police brutality and excessive force in communities of color.
Dozens of Garner supporters braved the pouring rain and waited for several hours outside of One Police Plaza for a chance get into the courtroom only to be turned away by NYPD security because the trial room was overcapacity.
The infamous video of Garner was played to the courtroom as the man who took it, Ramsey Orta, testified from prison, where he is serving time for drug and weapon charges.
During cross-examination, Orta said Pantaleo's arm wasn't around Garner's neck when he uttered, "I can't breathe."
Orta also backed off a claim he had made to internal affairs investigators two days after Garner's death that Pantaleo had his knee on Garner's back for five to 10 seconds. The video showed it was not on his back.
Video evidence shows Officer Daniel Pantaleo used an approved technique for restraining Garner, the officer’s attorney Stuart London said at the disciplinary hearing, adding that Pantaleo feared for his life when he felt Garner was trying to push him toward a plate glass window.
Two NYPD officers who led the department’s internal investigation into the Garner’s death also took the stand Monday.
The officers said the internal investigation found that Pantaleo likely violated department rules regarding a chokehold and that a request was made in January 2015 for internal disciplinary charges against him.
After a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges, the U.S. Department of Justice moved forward with a civil rights investigation into the incident.
Because of that investigation, the NYPD chose to delay its own internal disciplinary proceedings against the officers involved to not influence the DOJ investigation.
But over the summer, several years after Garner’s death, the NYPD changed course and said it would proceed with departmental charges against Pantaleo that could result in his termination.
Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Garner family say they have yet to hear from the DOJ about the status of its investigation.
The Garner family and advocates have been calling for other officers involved in Garner’s death to also face disciplinary proceedings.
Iris Baez, whose son Anthony died in the Bronx after a police officer put him in a chokehold stood side by side with the Garner family Monday.
“It’s been five years, five years we’ve been on the front line trying to get justice and they’re still trying to sweep it under the rug,” Carr said during a brief press conference during a lunch break.
Carr called on the other officers involved in Garner’s death to stand trial too.
Pantaleo and Sgt. Kizzy Adonis are the only two officers with pending disciplinary charges and Police Commissioner James O’Neill has declined to say whether those officers would face disciplinary proceedings.
Pantaleo faces excessive force charges for allegedly using a banned chokehold against Garner, who died in 2014 in Tompkinsville after the officer used put him in a chokehold while arresting him.
The trial is expected to last up to 10 days.
Pantaleo could face penalties ranging from the loss of vacation days to firing if he is found to have violated department rules. He denies wrongdoing.
A ruling last week requires that the police watchdog agency bringing the case prove not only that Pantaleo violated department rules, but also that his actions fit the criteria for criminal charges. Pantaleo does not face criminal charges.