Repeal of shield law reveals sordid past of cop whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death

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NEW YORK — The New York Police Department officer whose chokehold led to the death in 2014 of Eric Garner was reportedly the subject of seven misconduct complaints, new data now available since the repeal of a controversial shield law show.

Long before Garner died on a Staten Island street, and uttered the movement-launching words, “I can’t breathe,” the officer leading his arrest, Daniel Pantaleo, had been the subject of several complaints, including one for which he was docked two vacation days as punishment for a June 2012 stop-and-frisk incident, according to city records that have just become available, The Associated Press reported.

Pantaleo joined the force in 2006, and in only three years he was the subject of a Civilian Complaint Review Board investigation into an unsubstantiated allegation that he refused to obtain medical treatment for someone.

The last claim prior to Garner’s death was an unsubstantiated use-of-force allegation in March 2013.

Then-Police Commissioner James O’Neill fired Pantaleo last August, more than five years after Garner’s death, following the recommendation of the administrative judge who presided over Pantaleo’s department disciplinary trial.

The new details reported by the AP about Pantaleo’s sordid past come to light soon after the state Legislature passed and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation June 12 repealing a state law shielding police disciplinary records from public view.

The repeal of the controversial statute, known as 50-a, followed calls for police transparency amid national protests over the May 25 Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

Garner’s dying words were the same words uttered by Floyd when a white Minneapolis cop, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into the handcuffed black man’s neck for nearly nine minutes during a caught-on-camera Memorial Day arrest.

Chauvin was fired, along with three other officers at the scene, and was later charged with second-degree murder.

Pantaleo and the other officers involved in Garner’s botched arrest all avoided prosecution. Pantaleo was the only cop who lost his job.

Eliminating the 50-a law makes complaints against officers, as well as transcripts and final dispositions of disciplinary proceedings, public for the first time in decades.

In 1976, legislators passed the provision, known as 50-a of New York’s Civil Rights Law, as a way to protect police officers who testified in court.

But criminal justice advocates and public defenders have sought to overturn the provision, arguing that it removes a crucial layer of transparency for police officers accused of misconduct and gives police departments even more power than they already have.


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