The NYPD on Monday said the time has come to place Officer Daniel Pantaleo on trial in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
In a letter sent to the Justice Department — one day before the four-year anniversary of Garner’s death — the NYPD said that unless the feds by Aug. 31 publicly announce whether Pantaleo will be prosecuted, it will serve him with departmental charges, with an eye to trying him at 1 Police Plaza early in 2019.
Deputy Commissioner Lawrence Byrne, who runs the Police Department’s Legal Bureau and wrote the letter, said the decision was made because the Justice Department told the NYPD in the spring that its investigation was over. Justice Department officials previously had asked the NYPD not to proceed with any internal disciplinary proceeding until the feds finished their probe.
“We feel we’ve given then sufficient time,” Byrne told reporters. “They still have sufficient time . . . to act, and if they choose, as I said in the letter, if they choose to announce they’re going to file criminal charges we’ll stand down.
“If there’s no announcement then we need to move ahead at this point.”
The Justice Department said it told the NYPD during its spring contact that it could go forward with its plans for a departmental trial. However, Byrne and Mayor de Blasio said the DOJ never sent them such a signal.
“We have never gotten a clear answer from the Justice Department,” de Blasio said Monday night on NY1. “I think the NYPD is right now to proceed.”
The mayor called the Justice Department’s inability to decide whether to pursue the case “strange.”
Byrne’s letter to the feds cited the Garner family’s impatience after four years and the “difficulty comprehending a decision to defer to a federal criminal investigation that seems to have no end in sight.”
Garner’s family was notified of the letter before it was released to the media. The 43-year-old Staten Island man’s widow, Esaw Snipes, who with her family has moved out of the city, said she has tired of expecting anything from the feds. She also said nothing will ever replace her husband, who protested 11 times that he couldn’t breathe during a takedown on allegations he was selling loose cigarettes, or her daughter, Erica Garner, 27, who became an activist after her father’s death and herself died of a heart attack in December.
“I will never get over the loss of my husband and the loss of my daughter,” she said. “We miss them every day, but I cannot spend my life doing all this.”
Pantaleo’s lawyer had no comment, but Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said it’s time to end “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 predetermined outcome in its own disciplinary processes,” Lynch added.
Bryne said nothing has been determined.
City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Queens), head of the Public Safety Committee, said he hopes the departmental case doesn’t take too long.
“If there’s any case that cries out for the need for an individual to be fired when they put someone in (a banned) chokehold, this certainly is it,” he said.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board, which would try the case against Pantaleo, 33, substantiated last year misconduct allegations against the officer, who is on modified duty, working a desk job with no gun or shield. The agency Monday said it “stands ready to prosecute Officer Pantaleo.”
Already slapped with departmental charges is Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, 41, who has been accused of failure to supervise. She arrived on the scene after Garner had been taken to the ground.
Ed Mullins, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said Adonis, whose case will be prosecuted by NYPD lawyers, did nothing wrong and was charged only because the NYPD needed a scapegoat.
“This is politics at its highest level,” Mullins said.
With Thomas Tracy, Andrew Keshner and Erin Durkin
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