NEW YORK — After five years of investigations and protests, New York City’s police commissioner on Monday fired an officer involved in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man whose dying cries of “I can’t breathe” fuelled a national debate over race and police use of force.
Police commissioner James O’Neill’s announced at a midday news conference that he had fired officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, based on a recent recommendation of a department disciplinary judge. He said it was clear that Pantaleo “can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”
“None of us can take back our decisions,” O’Neill said, “especially when they lead to the death of another human being.”
O’Neill had been deliberating on whether to accept a disciplinary judge’s recommendation to fire Pantaleo for using a banned chokehold on Garner.
Recordings of Pantaleo putting Garner in the chokehold led to years of protests and calls by black activists and liberal politicians for Pantaleo to lose his job. City officials had long insisted, though, they couldn’t take action until criminal investigations were complete.
WATCH: ‘I lost a son’ — Eric Garner’s mother says they’ll keep fighting
A state grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in 2014. Federal authorities, however, kept a civil rights investigation open for five years before announcing last month that they wouldn’t bring charges.
Pantaleo’s lawyer has insisted the officer used a reasonable amount of force and didn’t mean to hurt Garner.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has declined to say whether he believes Pantaleo should lose his job but has been promising “justice” to the slain man’s family.
Garner’s death came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that sparked the national Black Lives Matter movement.
WATCH: Mother of Eric Garner says she was glad about decision to fire Pantaleo
Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Mo., over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. And later in 2014, a man angry about the Garner and Brown cases shot two New York City police officers to death in their cruiser in retribution.
At a recent administrative trial at New York Police Department headquarters, Pantaleo’s lawyers argued he used an approved “seatbelt” technique to subdue Garner, who refused to be handcuffed after officers accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes.
In a bystander’s video, it appeared that Pantaleo initially tried to use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, who was much larger at six feet two inches (188 centimetres) tall and about 400 pounds (180 kilograms), but ended up wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck for about seven seconds as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to the sidewalk.
The footage showed Garner, who was 43 at the time, crying out “I can’t breathe” at least 11 times before he fell unconscious. The medical examiner’s office said a chokehold contributed to Garner’s death.
Questions about the handling of the case have dogged de Blasio during his long-shot run for president, with some protesters at the recent debate in Detroit chanting: “Fire Pantaleo.”
WATCH: New York mayor says Eric Garner officer ruling is ‘step towards justice’