While attempting to answer a question during the July 30, 2019, CNN Democratic Presidential Debate, Senator Cory Booker was interrupted with chants of “fire Pantaleo” by a disgruntled and angry crowd. For far too long there has been the continued string of disappointing lack of action by different government entities concerning the death of Eric Garner by the hands of the police, particularly Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
First, the City failed to straightaway take any type of action. The Mayor and presidential hopeful Bill De Blasio declined to immediately bring any departmental disciplinary charges or inquiries in the case. Next, the grand jury refuses to bring about an indictment concerning the seemingly open and shut case of a chokehold used by the Pantaleo against Garner. As news media outlets and viral videos have shown the world, this chokehold applied in 2014 by Pantaleo against the loose cigarette selling citizen, led to Garner’s death. Even the medical examiner for the state of NY states that the actions of New Your City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo set off a chain of events which led to the Garner’s demise. For seven full seconds Ofc. Pantaleo secured his arm around the neck of Garner in attempts to bring him under control. Eleven times Garner pleaded for his life by stating that he couldn’t breathe. These are the basic facts which most people will agree upon. Unfortunately, as in many cases concerning police interactions, the agreement stops there.
As if it needs to be said, police officers are given a great amount of responsibility and are entrusted to perform their duties with care, dignity and within the legal bounds of their state-granted authority. They are granted the power of the state and given the authority to use force up to, and yes, including the use of deadly force. For some time in my career, I was a defensive tactics instructor (now called Response to Resistance). Part of my duties as an instructor was to ensure that students (officers) understood not only the means and methods of taking persons into custody but also the legal means to do so. We as instructors made sure that officers understood landmark court cases like Tennessee v. Garner, Graham v. Conner and Terry v. Ohio, to name a few. It was our duty and responsibility as instructors to make sure that officers understood the legal obligations concerning the application of the use of force. Furthermore, our duty was to confirm that officers understood the policy of the department concerning the application of the use of force. Couple this knowledge of legal precedents, policy considerations, and the public good, instructors were tasked with presenting a program which would allow officers to bring a suspect in custody, while hopefully preventing harm to themselves, other officers, by-standing civilians. When officers failed to understand the methods of the program, it was our job to put them back on the right path. Not only was it my job as an instructor, but I was also a supervisor who reviewed the Use of Force reports. It was my responsibility as a sergeant, lieutenant, and captain to make sure officers understood when they could use force and how much could be and should be applied depending on the circumstance of each individual case.
A Use of Force report is generated after any incident in which some type of force is applied to a non-compliant subject. The standards for the completion of the Use of Force report is set by the policy of each individual police department. Usually, the standard for completing a report is any type of force applied above or beyond the suspect simply placing his/her hands behind their back and placing handcuffs on them.
Ofc. Daniel Pantaleo used a maneuver which was banned by the NYPD back in 1993. At 33 years of age, that means that Pantaleo was 7 years old when this ban went into effect. Presumably, Pantaleo was never taught this maneuver when he received his police training. He completed his training and, likely, at no time did his defensive tactics instructors or any other instructor give him the green light to use the chokehold, especially when his life was not in danger. To the question does Pantaleo deserve to lose his job after 5 years of government inaction, my answer is, of course!
Officers are given a variety of other methods to employ in order to bring a combative or non-compliant subject into custody. Tasers, OC spray, additional officers, K-9’s, compliance techniques, batons, and bean bags are all methods of force utilized by officers around the country in order to bring about compliance. Again, the chokehold was specifically banned by the NYPD in 1993. Constantly referring to Garners, or any other subject’s size and physical appearance does not negate the fact that other methods should be and must be employed when facing a non-compliant subject.
No amount of money given to the victim’s family, no amount of new policies and procedures, no false condolences or empty platitudes by city official will bring Eric Garner back. The grand jury refused to do the right thing, the federal government refused to bring civil rights violations, hopefully with the recommendations of the NYC’s disciplinary judge decision, maybe this will give the family a little bit of peace.