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Eric Garner’s Mother Struggles Through Cop’s NYPD Trial

Gwen Carr
Gwen Carr speaks to reporters outside One Police Plaza on May 14, 2019.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

On Wednesday morning, Gwen Carr will get up and drive from Stapleton in Staten Island to One Police Plaza in Manhattan to attend an NYPD trial that she doesn’t believe will deliver any justice for Eric Garner, her slain son.

“It’s a hard process. Me and my family have been going through this for five years. We have to sit through this and hear the nonsense and hear the negative reviews from people on the outside,” Carr told THE CITY. “But I’ve learned to sidecheck brick walls because you’re going to run into them.”

Attending Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s administrative trial in front of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which resumes June 5, has become clockwork for Carr, who makes the hour-long trek with her husband and daughter.

Between her own health issues, raw testimony and powerful images shown at the trial — she left in tears when the infamous “I can’t breathe video” was played — Carr said steeling herself has been difficult.

Still, she’s been a constant presence — and intends to keep it that way.

“I’ve had to skip physical therapy and I don’t like that because when I go I feel better,” said Carr, who battles sciatic nerve pain. “My daughter has taken days off from Transit for the trial and that’s difficult in her position” as a city bus driver.

A Fatal Encounter in 2014

Pantaleo has been on desk duty since he put Garner, a 43-year-old asthmatic, in what a medical examiner testified was a fatal chokehold on July 17, 2014. Cops said they believed Garner was selling loose cigarettes.

In December 2014, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo, sparking protests throughout New York City and around the country. Eight months later, the city settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Garner’s family for $5.9 million.

Pantaleo now faces counts of assault and strangulation in the departmental case. His maximum possible punishment, if found guilty: termination from the NYPD. A lesser penalty could result in the loss of vacation days.

“No, none of that is justice — and vacation days we will just not accept,” said Carr.

“He’s on vacation right now,” she said of Pantaleo, who has been on desk duty since the fatal encounter in Tompkinsville.

The trial started on May 13, but has been in session for only five days.

Pantaleo’s defense team asked earlier in the month if the trial could be paused so the officer could go on a scheduled vacation. Rosemarie Maldonado, administrative judge overseeing the case, denied the request.

Erica Garner
Eric Garner’s daughter, Erica Garner, takes part in a protest in Union Square on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2015. She died of a heart attack a little under three years later.
Ben Fractenberg/DNAinfo

But she suspend proceedings for two weeks after a medical examiner from Missouri whom defense lawyer Stuart London wanted to call as a witness was unable to travel. Maldonado had also allowed recesses on May 17 and May 20.

“They were trying to get it away and done with before it started,” said Carr, referring to London’s previous efforts to postpone the trial.

Anger at the Mayor

Carr also had strong words for Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying he could have directed the police commissioner to fire all of the NYPD officers who were at the scene.

“He doesn’t even talk about my son’s fate. And even when the commemoration comes up, he doesn’t say anything. Even words of encouragement, words of sympathy. He does nothing,” said Carr.

“And now he’s announced that he’s going to run for president. How are you going to run for president when you haven’t fulfilled your role as a mayor?”

A City Hall spokesperson didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Carr, who has become an activist and author, pointed to the presence at the trial of other mothers who have lost their children to fatal encounters with police as a source of comfort.

“We’ve become like family and they still lend their support,” Carr said. “It’s a bond that we have with each other that other people may not understand. But when you lose a child and in such a tragic way, you can relate to each other’s pain.”

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