NEW YORK — The New York Police Department hasn’t been able to figure out who specifically trained an officer accused in the 2014 chokehold death of an unarmed black man because police academy records for his class didn’t list instructors for individual cadets, the department said Thursday.
The lack of clarity is making it harder for a police watchdog agency to prepare for Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s disciplinary trial in May in the death of Eric Garner. Civilian Complaint Review Board lawyer Suzanne O’Hare told an administrative judge that she has to figure out who of up to 50 possible witnesses should testify.
O’Hare, who’s prosecuting the case in a department tribunal, said she was submitting two witness lists — a primary list of 17 people and a supplemental list containing the names of 33 people who were employed as instructors during the times Pantaleo received training.
At the time Pantaleo joined the force in 2006, the police academy did not keep “precise records on which instructors specifically trained each individual officer,” the NYPD said in a statement. “As a result, a complete list of trainers who definitely instructed (Officer) Pantaleo does not exist.”
Instead, the department said, it provided a complete list of “of every instructor who may have provided training” to Pantaleo to ensure that no one was missed and has been helping the agency identify which trainers it’s certain instructed him.
The department said it has also fulfilled a request for thousands of pages of training records, course materials and materials related to any supplemental training Pantaleo received during his career.
Pantaleo, who is white, is charged with reckless use of a chokehold and intentional use of a chokehold in Garner’s July 2014 death in Staten Island. If convicted, he could face punishment ranging from the loss of vacation days to firing from the department.
Pantaleo, 33, was stripped of his gun and badge and placed on desk duty after the event. He made nearly $98,000 last year, according to public records. He did not attend Thursday’s hearing. His trial is scheduled to begin May 13 and is expected to last about two weeks.
Pantaleo’s case could hinge on testimony about his training. His lawyer, Stuart London, has said the officer used a takedown move taught by the police department, not a banned chokehold, and will be vindicated.
Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, could be heard on an amateur video shouting “I can’t breathe!” as Pantaleo placed his arm around his neck after officers stopped him for selling untaxed cigarettes.
Garner, who had asthma, suffered a heart attack in an ambulance and was pronounced dead at a hospital.
His mother, Gwen Carr, said Thursday that other police officers and supervisors involved in his arrest should also be disciplined.
The NYPD decided to go forward with the case against Pantaleo last year as it ran out of patience with the federal government’s indecision about bringing a criminal case. Federal prosecutors have until July to file civil rights charges against Pantaleo.
Pantaleo’s union, the Police Benevolent Association, said Thursday that the maneuver he used on Garner “has been mislabeled a ‘chokehold’ by the uninformed and by activists” and that his department trial “simply should not be happening.”
Pantaleo “did nothing wrong and should not be on trial for doing his job the way he was trained to do it,” union president Patrick Lynch said, blaming Garner’s “extremely poor health and severely compromised cardiovascular system” for his death.
“Mr. Garner was taken to the ground using the minimum amount of force by employing a maneuver taught in the police academy that has been used countless times with no negative physical impact on the arrestees,” Lynch said in a statement.