What to Know
Former NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo is suing the department to get his job back, his lawyer confirmed
Pantaleo, who was fired in August, said in the lawsuit that the decision to fire him was “arbitrary and capricious"
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill fired the officer after siding with the department trial judge who recommended termination
Former NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo is suing the department to get his job back, his lawyer confirmed to NBC News.
Pantaleo, who was fired in August after being accused of using a banned chokehold that led to Eric Garner’s death in 2014, said in the lawsuit that the decision to fire him was “arbitrary and capricious,” his attorney, Stuart London, told NBC News on Wednesday.
Immediately after the decision was handed down on August 19, London had said they planned to appeal the decision.
"We will file an article 78. We will continue with this case,” London said at the time, referring to the New York judicial proceeding that allows for challenges to court determinations. “After the article 78, if we need to appeal beyond that we will. We are looking for him to get his job back."
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill fired the officer after siding with the department trial judge who recommended termination a few weeks prior.
"Every time I watch that video I say to myself, as I'm sure all of you do, 'Mr. Garner, don't do it. Comply. Officer Pantaleo, don't do it,'” O’Neill said after the firing. "But none of us can take back our decisions, most especially when they lead to the death of another human being."
Pantaleo’s firing was lauded by advocates and local leaders, including Mayor Bill de Blasio who said that “justice was done.” Rev. Al Sharpton praised the decision to fire the controversial cop, and called Pantaleo’s decision to seek reinstatement “not only disrespectful to the Police Commissioner and NYPD, but also the Garner family” —adding that if he does get his job back, he will “pose a threat” to minority populations in New York City.
“He has shown no contrition or acknowledgment of his violent actions that ultimately killed Eric Garner,” Sharpton said in a statement.
Meanwhile, O’Neill was repeatedly blasted by Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch for his decision. Lynch blasted the leadership of the city and police department saying they "are absolutely afraid of criminal advocates and based this decision not on the facts, but based this decision on the politics," calling the events that unfolded in 2014 as "not a crime" but a "chaotic situation."
Lynch called for Mayor Bill de Blasio to be removed for what he sees as a lack of support for the police department. He also went on to say that O'Neill "lost" the police department.
It was determined that Pantaleo would not receive his 13-year vested pension, but would get the contributions back that he had made over his years on the force, O'Neill said.
On Aug. 2, an NYPD trial judge found Pantaleo guilty of "reckless assault" when he used an impermissible chokehold on Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island father. She found the officer not guilty of "intentional strangulation." An autopsy had found Garner's death was caused in part by a chokehold; the medical examiner ruled the case a homicide.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board prosecuted the case. In a statement in August, Chair Fred Davie said O'Neill had no choice but to dismiss Pantaleo given the evidence presented at the department trial.
"Make no mistake: This process took entirely too long. And the tragic reality is that neither a verdict from a judge nor a decision by a police commissioner can reverse what happened on July 17, 2014," Davie said. "Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s termination from the New York City Police Department does not make the death of Eric Garner any less harrowing. But it is heartening to know that some element of justice has been served."
Following the NYPD judge's recommendation to fire Pantaleo, his lawyer maintained that the officer's case had been won in the courtroom but lost due entirely to politics. He said Pantaleo did not use a chokehold, but a department-approved takedown move designed to subdue a suspect.
The chokehold or no-chokehold debate was the crux of the entire case against Pantaleo. Prosecutors had argued the video, which captured Garner's dying words, "I can't breathe," clearly showed Pantaleo use a banned chokehold -- and the medical examiner's autopsy report listed a chokehold as the cause of his death. Health factors, including obesity and high blood pressure, were mentioned as contributing factors in that report.
Defense attorneys submitted at trial that the move Pantaleo was seen using was not an illegal chokehold, but a department-approved takedown move used to subdue suspects resisting arrest -- and that his arm was not around Garner's neck when he said, repeatedly, "I can't breathe."
His words became a rallying cry for the national movement against police brutality. Garner's family received $5.9 million from the city in 2015 to settle a wrongful death claim.