Gwen Carr’s lawyer told her late Monday afternoon that a top Department of Justice official wanted to meet the next morning.
By then, Eric Garner’s mother already had heard from news reports that the feds were planning an announcement Tuesday. Shortly before the meeting, family members learned the DOJ wouldn’t move forward with charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, nearly five years to the day Garner died at the hands of the Staten Island cop.
Carr said she wasn’t surprised by the feds’ choice.
“Now that the DOJ made their decision, we’re looking at de Blasio to make his,” Carr told THE CITY. “We want him to stand up and be the mayor he’s supposed to be.”
Carr and her daughter said at a City Hall rally that Mayor Bill de Blasio should have directed the NYPD commissioner to fire all the officers who were at the scene of Garner’s death years ago, and added that the city didn’t have to wait for DOJ to take action.
“Enough is enough,” said Ellisha Garner, Garner’s sister, outside of City Hall. “Bill de Blasio: Stop trying to be a president when you can’t even be a mayor.”
A Mayor Policy Reversal
The mayor was seen quickly leaving City Hall before the rally started — without addressing reporters or early protestors. But hours after DOJ decision, his administration announced a major policy change in the handling of police-involved deaths of unarmed civilians.
Instead of waiting for the conclusion of a criminal trial, the Police Department or Civilian Complaint Review Board “will begin its disciplinary process immediately” — unless the victim’s family requests that the criminal case to proceed first or a judge orders a delay to let prosecutors investigate.
“We will not wait for the federal government to commence our own disciplinary proceedings,” de Blasio said in a statement. “This further reform will make sure no family ever waits years for the answers they deserve.”
A spokesperson for the mayor, Freddi Goldstein, said that the administration will reach out to families of civilians who died in three police encounters currently under investigation, to determine which action they would prefer to see first: a disciplinary proceeding or a criminal investigation.
One incident, in which a motorcyclist died while attempting to evade arrest, is currently under investigation by the Queens district attorney’s office.
Two others are being probed by state Attorney General Letitia James, under executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointing the AG as special prosecutor when unarmed civilians die in police encounters — action the governor took after Garner’s death.
State records indicate two New York City incidents referred to the attorney general that have not yet resulted in the release of an investigative report. One is the May 2018 death of Edwin Garcia after police were summoned to his East Harlem apartment.
The other case is the death of Dwayne Pritchett in the Bronx, in January 2018, hours after his arrest.
One former head of the NYPD’s trial room predicted the mayor’s change in handling police discipline cases would have little effect, given the power of families and judges to intervene.
“It’s very unconventional and I’d imagine that practical considerations are going to prevail,” said Rae Koshetz, the former NYPD deputy commissioner for trials.
The NYPD has traditionally waited for any possible state or federal criminal cases to play out before interviewing cops involved in questionable fatal shootings or other incidents.
Department brass can force officers to talk about what happened during so-called GO-15 interviews. But those sessions can’t be used in criminal cases and run the risk of tainting the evidence that is presented at trial, potentially making prosecution more difficult.
Victims’ families, just like NYPD bosses, have another incentive to wait for the criminal case to conclude. Officers found guilty of a felony or a misdemeanor that compromises their oath of office are instantly fired. That saves the NYPD the expense and hassle of bringing an internal disciplinary case.
‘This City Will Pay a Price’
Pantaleo’s six-week internal NYPD trial on charges of assault and strangulation concluded in mid-June. The cop, if found guilty, could be fired or simply lose vacation days.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado will render a verdict and Police Commissioner James O’Neill will decide what, if any, punishment Pantaleo will receive. But there’s no timeline for when this will happen, according to the CCRB.
Garner’s videotaped words — “I can’t breathe!” — as Pantaleo held him around the neck became a rallying cry at protests around the city and country after a Staten Island grand jury failed to indict the cop in late 2014.
Kirsten Foy, founder of Arc of Justice, said supporters of the Garner family will organize “11 days of protest,” starting with a rally march at Foley Square set for Wednesday at 4 p.m.
“This city is going to pay a price,” said Foy, once a staffer for then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
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