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Judge Recommends Firing The N.Y. Officer Involved In Eric Garner's Death


Just over five years later, we have a development in the death of Eric Garner, whose final words were, I can't breathe - words that became a rallying cry against police brutality. Garner had been put in a chokehold after police confronted him over the alleged illegal sale of cigarettes. Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer most directly involved in Garner's death in New York City, was not charged with a crime. But today, a judge is recommending that he be fired. WNYC's Cindy Rodriguez is breaking this story. She's on the line.

Good morning.

CINDY RODRIGUEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are you learning?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, Steve, we've confirmed from a source that a judge has found Officer Pantaleo guilty of using a banned chokehold and not guilty of intentionally restricting Mr. Garner's breathing. And she has recommended that he be fired. Now...

INSKEEP: You said guilty, not guilty. So are these actual - is this a conviction? What is this exactly?

RODRIGUEZ: This is a disciplinary trial. So this is an NYPD administrative judge. But it runs very similar to a trial in that it's a courtroom. There's a judge. There's prosecutors. There's defense attorneys. So the structure is very similar. Now. The difference is that it runs by a preponderance of evidence, not by beyond a reasonable doubt. That's what the prosecutors had to prove. So there were two charges. There was that he used it an illegal chokehold. And they had to prove that Officer Pantaleo acted recklessly and attempted to assault Mr. Garner.

INSKEEP: So they found that he did, in fact, use an inappropriate means, an illegal means of restraining the man but not that he had intended to choke him or to close off his airway. Is that what you said?

RODRIGUEZ: That's correct, Steve.

INSKEEP: And so what are the consequences for that?

RODRIGUEZ: And so she has recommended termination for Officer Pantaleo. Now, this is not the end of it. So the way the process works and here in New York City is that this decision and the reasons why she came to this conclusion were both shown to both sides - the defense attorney and the prosecutors. Both sides have a chance to weigh in, send that back. And that ultimately goes to our police commissioner, who will then ultimately decide what to do with Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

INSKEEP: I guess he has to decide how much longer he wants to fight this.

RODRIGUEZ: That's correct. That's correct. He could, like other officers before him, quit before our police commissioner makes his final decision.

INSKEEP: I wonder if part of the difference here between this and the criminal proceedings is in that word preponderance that you use - the preponderance of evidence. When faced with the need to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt, both a local grand jury and federal prosecutors decided they didn't have enough to go on. But in this disciplinary hearing, the standard of proof was different. And therefore, someone went ahead.

RODRIGUEZ: Right. That's correct. It's a lower bar.

INSKEEP: What kinds of - how closely is this case still being followed five years later in New York City?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think that it's being followed pretty closely, especially by the Garner family, who has been out every day at the disciplinary trial. They have been waiting for this decision for a very long time. We are still waiting to hear from them. And I'm sure that reaction will come soon. We're also waiting for a 1 p.m. press conference from the mayor.

INSKEEP: OK. So again, the news from WNYC's Cindy Rodriguez - in a disciplinary hearing, a judge finds Daniel Pantaleo, the officer in the Eric Garner case, guilty of one accusation, not guilty of another. And the recommendation, not yet final, is for termination. Cindy Rodriguez, thanks so much.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOGS' "5/4" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Cindy Rodriguez