Eric Garner's family files lawsuit seeking judicial inquiry into his death
By ERIN DURKIN 08/27/2019 03:41 PM EDT
The family of Eric Garner filed a lawsuit seeking to haul Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill before a judge to answer questions about their handling of the unarmed man’s death at the hands of police.
The family and their supporters also filed a freedom of information request seeking the release of exhibits and transcripts from the disciplinary trial of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was fired last week for his role in Garner’s death, and a slew of other records related to the case.
“We cannot just stand by and let this get swept under the rug,” Garner’s mother Gwen Carr said Tuesday outside City Hall. “This is not going away.”
The legal petition relies on a rarely-used section of the city charter, which allows any five citizens who pay taxes in the city to request a formal judicial inquiry into alleged violations or neglect of duty by a public official.
If approved by a judge, de Blasio, O’Neill and other officials could be forced to answer questions under oath on the case.
“We’re going to court to do what the city hasn’t done, and clearly won’t do, which is to get a thorough, transparent, independent fact finding of what happened to Ms. Carr’s son,” said Alvin Bragg, co-director of the New York Law School Racial Justice Project and one of the attorneys on the case.
The NYPD fired Pantaleo for using a chokehold, a maneuver prohibited by NYPD rules which was found to be responsible for Garner’s 2014 death. A sergeant on the scene at the time, Kizzy Adonis, was docked 20 vacation days in a plea deal to avoid a departmental trial.
The department will not discipline any other officers over the incident, de Blasio and O’Neill have said.
Advocates say more officers deserve to be fired, including Pantaleo’s partner Justin Damico, who incorrectly stated in an arrest report that no force was used in taking Garner into custody on suspicion of selling illegal cigarettes. He also filed an inflated felony charge against Garner for the cigarette sales.
“They lied on official reports. There was supposed to be zero tolerance for lying on official reports. What happened to that? Why are these officers still collecting their paycheck?” Carr said.
The complaint, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, charges that de Blasio and O’Neill neglected their duties to conduct a thorough investigation and impose discipline over the arrest and false statements made by members of the NYPD.
It also names FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, who oversaw the emergency medical technicians accused of failing to give Garner adequate medical help, and NYPD Deputy Commissioner Kevin Richardson.
It asks for a judicial inquiry that would include sworn testimony by those officials, the police officers and EMTs who were on the scene and others.
The last time a judicial inquiry was ordered was in 2016, when a judge approved a request by then-Public Advocate Letitia James for an inquiry into the city’s special education system.
In a sweeping freedom of information request, the family is also asking for police logs, emails about enforcement against cigarette sales in the Staten Island neighborhood, communications between officers after Garner’s death, and all evidence used in the disciplinary case.
“The family and the community supporting them deserve access to every record and every scrap of paper that has to do with Mr. Garner’s killing,” said attorney Gideon Oliver.
“The Police Commissioner promised the people of New York a fair, thorough, and unbiased trial process, and that is precisely what occurred. Every FOIL requested will be evaluated on its merits, in full accordance with the law,” said NYPD spokesperson Phil Walzak.
Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor, said "The police department conducted a fair and impartial investigation into this matter, including holding a public trial. For the first time, officers were held accountable.”