New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo should be terminated following his controversial involvement in the death of Eric Garner, a departmental administrative judge officially recommended Friday, city officials said.
On Friday, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado ruled that Mr Pantaleo had used a chokehold - which is banned by the police department - despite his repeated denials that the strangle move had not been employed.
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill will have the final say on the officer's fate. "He knows that if he affirms this horrendous decision, he will lose his police department", said Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch.
"This judge ignored the evidence and trampled P.O. Pantaleo's due process rights in order to deliver the result that the grandstanding politicians and protesters demanded", Lynch said. Garner ultimately suffocated. He told the officers, "I can't breathe", which later became a rallying cry among supporters and activists.
Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association of the City of NY, described the recommendation to terminate Pantaleo as "pure political insanity" that will "paralyze the NYPD for years to come".
After receiving the recommendation to fire Pantaleo, NYPD officials suspended him Friday, as their in-house disciplinary is likely to take several more weeks to play out. It came at a time of a fierce nationwide debate about race and criminal justice and posed a tense challenge for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, less than a year after he took office on a promise to improve police-community relations.
The Reverand Al Sharpton, appearing with two of Garner's children, called on the police commissioner to "immediately and unequivocally" accept the recommendation.
Lynch and Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, said Maldonado reached her decision to fire the officer based on his alleged reckless behavior during the attempted 2014 arrest of Garner.
Pantaleo was the officer who wrestled Garner to the ground by his neck as he repeatedly told authorities that he could not breathe.
"This decision is a decision that is good for the citizens of the city, but make no mistake about it, this is not justice for the Garner family", he said.
Walzak said O'Neill was aware of media reports regarding the findings but hasn't been provided a copy, in keeping with the department's disciplinary process.
The decision by U.S. Attorney General William Barr was announced a day before the five-year anniversary of Garner's death.
The senior medical examiner on the Garner case concluded that he had died from a chokehold - an important distinction because the NYPD does not allow the use of chokeholds to subdue suspects.
The Garner case exposed divisions even inside the Justice Department, where NY prosecutors and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents felt charges were not warranted, while civil rights division prosecutors at Justice Department headquarters argued for an indictment of Pantaleo.
Throughout the various investigations, Pantaleo has remained on the force but been on desk duty since Garner's death.
Pantaleo's lawyer will have about two weeks to submit a response before Police Commissioner James O'Neill makes a final decision on punishment.