NEW YORK — A judge on Tuesday agreed to hold a hearing into whether a police watchdog agency in New York has the jurisdiction to handle the department disciplinary trial of the officer accused in the 2014 death of Eric Garner.
New York State Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden scheduled the hearing for next week, but she declined to issue a temporary restraining order against the trial, currently expected to start in mid-May, that the attorney for New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo had been seeking.
Pantaleo, who is white, is charged with reckless use of a chokehold and intentional use of a chokehold in Garner’s July 2014 death on Staten Island. If convicted, he could face punishment ranging from the loss of vacation days to firing from the department. He is currently on desk duty, and has been since the event.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board is prosecuting Pantaleo under a memorandum of understanding with the NYPD.
But Stuart London, Pantaleo’s attorney, said it shouldn’t be that way, that the NYPD should be handling any prosecution. He took issue with the initial citizen complaint the agency took from someone claiming to be an eyewitness to Garner’s death, which became the springboard to the review board’s involvement, by questioning the veracity of that account and by extension board’s jurisdiction.
“If I thought this person was actually there, I would not be making this argument,” he said outside court.
Fred Davie, chair of the review board, said the stance was “a baseless attempt to delay Officer Pantaleo’s prosecution.”
He added, “With closure for the Garner family hanging in the balance, the trial for Officer Pantaleo must proceed as scheduled and not be further delayed by these meritless maneuvers.”
Garner, who was 43, refused to be handcuffed after police stopped him for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Pantaleo is seen on a widely watched cell phone video putting Garner in an apparent chokehold, which is banned under NYPD policy.
Garner is heard gasping, “I can’t breathe.”
London said at a department hearing last month that the NYPD’s chief surgeon ruled in 2014 that Pantaleo hadn’t used a chokehold on Garner.
Garner, who was heavyset and had asthma, suffered a heart attack in an ambulance and was pronounced dead at a hospital. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide caused in part by the chokehold.
The NYPD decided to go forward with the disciplinary 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.
Garner’s family received $5.9 million from the city in 2015 to settle a wrongful death claim.