NYPD to proceed with disciplinary proceedings in Eric Garner case if feds don't announce criminal charges

The Justice Department has until August 31 to issue civil rights charges.

July 16, 2018, 3:43 PM

The New York City Police Department said Monday it would move forward with internal disciplinary hearings for the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner if the Justice Department does not announce federal civil rights charges by August 31, according to a letter from the NYPD.

The letter, written by Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs Larry Byrne, expressed frustration at the lack of a decision by the Trump administration.

“Understandably, members of the public in general and the Garner family in particular have grown impatient with the fact that NYPD has not proceeded with our disciplinary proceedings and they have difficulty comprehending a decision to defer to a federal criminal investigation that seems to have no end in sight.”

Garner died in custody four years ago, on July 17, 2014, after Officer Daniel Pantaleo, and others, used a banned chokehold tactic to restrain him. Pantaleo has continued to get paid while the disciplinary proceedings against him are pending.

“The NYPD has come to the conclusion that given the extraordinary passage of time since the incident without a final decision on the U.S. DOJ’s criminal investigation, any further delay in moving ahead with our own disciplinary proceedings can no longer be justified,” the letter said.

A spokesman with the Department of Justice told ABC News, “As officials at the Department of Justice informed Mr. Byrne this spring, the New York Police Department may move forward with its disciplinary proceedings. Mr. Byrne’s letter does not have any bearing on the decision-making timeline at the Justice Department, and the Department cannot comment further at this time.”

Garner’s death was recorded on a bystander’s cellphone and became a catalyst for protests across the country over the police treatment of unarmed black men. Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for demonstrators.

Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said, “We agree that the Justice Department’s leadership should move to close Police Officer Pantaleo’s case and put an end to what has been a highly irregular fishing expedition by those seeking an indictment at all cost. However, that should not trigger a race by the NYPD to reach a pre-determined outcome in its own disciplinary processes. Police Officer Pantaleo is entitled to due process and an impartial consideration of the facts. If that is allowed to occur, we are confident that he will be vindicated and will finally be able to move forward."

The NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board, a police oversight agency, recommended charges a year ago in the Garner case.

“The CCRB’s Administrative Prosecution Unit stands ready to prosecute Officer Pantaleo as it does in cases in which the Board substantiates misconduct against a member of the NYPD and recommends Charges and Specifications,” said CCRB Chair Fred Davie.

Career prosecutors in Brooklyn have recommended that Pantaleo face federal charges, but senior officials in Washington remain skeptical the charges could stick, a source familiar with the matter told ABC News

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