NEW YORK — Eric Garner’s relatives asked a court Tuesday to force New York City’s mayor and police commissioner to answer questions under oath as the family seeks to pull back the curtain on the investigation into his 2014 chokehold death.
Garner’s mother and sister, joined by police reform advocates, filed a petition in state court seeking a summary judicial inquiry, a special proceeding allowed by the city charter that enables the courts to act as a check on the actions of city government.
The court did not immediately rule.
The legal fight, which includes a demand for troves of records related to Garner’s case, comes a week after the police department wrapped up the only two disciplinary cases to arise from his death.
The department fired Officer Daniel Pantaleo on Aug. 19 for using a banned chokehold on Garner and announced a few days later that a sergeant who responded to the scene had agreed to forfeit 20 days of vacation time to resolve her disciplinary case.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, and sister, Ellisha Flagg Garner, allege that Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner James O’Neill and other city officials neglected their duties in their handling of Garner’s death.
Under the city charter, a summary judicial inquiry allows city officials to be questioned under penalty of perjury about matters of alleged official misconduct. Afterward, transcripts of their testimony are made public.
“There is no area of local government where public accountability is more necessary than policing, especially when police conduct results in the loss of life,” lawyers for Carr, Flagg Garner and the advocates said in their petition. “Yet, there has been scant information released by the city about Mr. Garner’s death.”
City Hall and the police department pushed back on the request for such a proceeding.
“The police department conducted a fair and impartial investigation into this matter, including holding a public trial,” City Hall spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said in an email. “For the first time, officers were held accountable.”
Police spokesman Phil Walzak said in an email: “The police commissioner promised the people of New York a fair, thorough, and unbiased trial process, and that is precisely what occurred.”
He added that every request for records, under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, “will be evaluated on its merits, in full accordance with the law.”
Carr and Flagg Garner said they remain frustrated with what they see as a lack of transparency in the police disciplinary process and said a lack of accountability for other officers involved amounted to the city “sweeping this under the rug.”
One of the reasons there hasn’t been a free flow of information on the disciplinary cases is a state law that keeps police personnel records secret. O’Neill has said he supports changing the law. The union opposes changes.
Pantaleo’s department trial was open to the public, but space in the courtlike room at police headquarters was limited and the department didn’t allow video or photos.
Because of the privacy law, trial transcripts were not made available to the public. Neither was the final report in which an administrative judge recommended that Pantaleo be fired.
“After all of the games they have played for more than half a decade, we have no faith that they have really been diligent in investigating officer misconduct,” Carr and Flagg Garner said in a written statement.AlertMe