Judicial inquiry begins looking into Eric Garner's death at hands of NYPD

The proceedings will cover use of force, lack of medical care and more.

The long-awaited judicial inquiry into the NYPD killing of Eric Garner began on Monday.

Judge Erika Edwards has ordered 13 witnesses, including NYPD officers and sergeants, to testify in order to offer more insight and transparency into the fatal 2014 incident.

The proceedings will focus on: the arrest and use of force against Garner, the filing of official documents concerning Garner's arrest, the alleged leaking of Garner's arrest history and medical condition from the autopsy report, as well as the alleged lack of medical care for Garner.

"It's trailblazing if you ask me," Edwards said Monday as the proceedings began. "Nobody will be charged or found liable. It's about transparency. It's about creating a record. It's about letting the public better understand what happened and what did not happen seven years ago."

On July 17, 2014, Garner was suspected by NYPD police officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin D'Amico of selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner denied the accusation, but police responded by trying to arrest the 43-year-old Black man. In an effort to take Garner into custody, Pantaleo used a prohibited chokehold that has been banned by the NYPD since the 1990s.

Garner told officers "I can't breathe" 11 times before falling unconscious. Garner was left lying on the sidewalk for several minutes while officers waited for an ambulance to arrive. Garner was declared dead at the hospital.

"I can't breathe" became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter and anti-racism movements against police brutality and racial injustice.

Pantaleo, a white officer, has denied wrongdoing.

There will not be any legal rulings at the end and no one will be charged based on the testimony given in the inquiry.

Pantaleo will not be involved in the inquiry as he was fired in 2019 following a department disciplinary trial. Pantaleo was not indicted in Garner's death. Garner's family reached a $5.9 million settlement with the city.

The petitioners, like Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, and sister, Ellisha Flagg Garner, represent leaders of the community fighting against racial injustice, according to Garner family attorney Alvin Bragg, the Democratic nominee for Manhattan District Attorney.

"This hearing will lead to further accountability for his death and advance the cause of racial justice in our criminal justice system, both in our city and across the nation," Bragg said in the hearing.

New York City objected to the inquiry, believing enough about the case has become publicly known.

Edwards excused New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and three police commissioners from testifying despite the Garner family's wishes.

The first witness, Lt. Christopher Bannon, is a 24-year veteran of the NYPD who now leads the Staten Island Grand Larceny Unit. In 2014, Bannon was a special operations lieutenant who texted that Garner's death was "not a big deal" because he believed the arrest was lawful.

Bannon testified Monday he attended a March 2014 meeting at police headquarters about so-called quality-of-life crimes, including the sale of untaxed cigarettes.

"When they do these types of meetings, they want follow-up enforcement," Bannon said Monday.

Garner was arrested twice before his fateful encounter with police, on March 28, 2014, and May 7, 2014, in response to the department's concern about the proliferation of untaxed single cigarettes, Bannon said.