A web of lies surrounds Eric Garner’s death

The version of Eric Garner’s death that New York City Police Officer Justin D’Amico told publicly for the first time this week fell apart under cross-examination.

D’Amico was the senior officer that fateful day in July 2014 when Daniel Pantaleo placed Eric Garner in the chokehold that ended his life. The medical examiner ruled that Garner’s death was a “homicide caused by the officer’s use of force.”

The independent Civilian Complaint Review Board has charged Pantaleo with reckless use of a chokehold and intentional restriction of breathing in the 2014 death of Eric Garner. This “disciplinary process plays out like a trial in front of an administrative judge.” The police commissioner will decide if Pantaleo will face any repercussions for Garner’s death.

The NYPD office of internal affairs called Pantaleo’s maneuver a chokehold, and in 2015 Deputy Inspector Charles Barton ordered the lead investigator to recommend disciplinary charges, charges that have yet to be filed. The commanding officer of recruit training at the NY Police Academy also called it a chokehold.

Deliberate mistruth = lie.

Skilled cross-examination skewered D’Amico’s version of events.

Suzanne O’Hare, Deputy Chief Prosecutor for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, took D’Amico down, point-by-point.

First, D’Amico lied on arrest papers when he charged a dead man with a felony. The charge “would have required prosecutors to prove Garner, a small-time street hustler, had sold 10,000 untaxed cigarettes.

Under cross-examination, D’Amico admitted it was not the correct charge and that Garner had less than 100 cigarettes in his possession when he was killed.

D’Amico knowingly created postmortem charging papers based on a lie. His deliberate fabrication was not merely an “exaggeration” or “inflated charge” as framed by mainstream news. It was a form of cover-up.

Second, D’Amico lied about being able to see Garner sell a loose untaxed cigarette.

D’Amico testified that he and Pantaleo “parked up the block, watching Garner from a distance, until D’Amico saw Garner sell a loose untaxed cigarette.”

Under cross-examination, D’Amico admitted that he didn’t really know how far away they were.

“Would it surprise you to learn that the actual distance is 328 feet?” [O’Hare] asked the officer. “More than a football field?”
D’Amico conceded that distance might be correct, and that no, he did not have binoculars with him to aid in his ostensible observation of the sale.

D’Amico claimed he could clearly witness a cigarette sale from a distance equivalent to standing on a football goal line while watching two people do something in the other end zone.

End zone image from Wikipedia

This is not an exaggeration. This is a deliberate misrepresentation, aka a lie, fabricated to justify questionable behavior.

D’Amico claimed eagle-eyed vision at a distance, but fuzziness close-up.

Third, D’Amico refused to admit that he could tell that Pantaleo had his arm around Garner’s neck while examining a still photo from a video of the event.

Eric Garner chokehold from Wikipedia
“Officer Pantaleo still has his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck?” [O’Hare] asked him, as she showed one image in which Pantaleo’s arm is around Garner’s neck.
“It was around his body,” D’Amico responded. “Upper body.”
“Is his arm in fact around his neck?” O’Hare continued.
“From that photo I can’t tell if it’s around his neck or not,” D’Amico said.
O’Hare pressed.
“His bicep is in the head area, yes,” D’Amico said.
“His head area?” O’Hare asked.
“Yes, the upper head area.” D’Amico said.

To be reiterate, NYPD regulations prohibit officers from using chokeholds.

Fourth, D’Amico claimed that he had given Garner a warning a few weeks earlier. Guess what? D’Amico “didn’t log the event in his memo book.”

To recap:

  • D’Amico lied when he charged a dead man with a felony not supported by evidence;
  • D’Amico lied about where he was when he supposedly witnessed an illegal cigarette sale;
  • D’Amico dissembled when asked to describe a photo of Pantaleo with his arm around Garner’s neck; and
  • D’Amico claimed without evidence that he had already given Garner a warning.

There’s a trial?

You can be forgiven for thinking “what trial?” given that Pantaleo has faced no criminal charges in Garner’s death despite a medical examiner finding of death by homicide.

A federal civil rights inquiry has gone no where. The federal statute of limitations expires on July 17, the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death. Doubtful there will be any action by the Trump Administration.

A Staten Island grand jury did not indict Pantaleo in 2014, a testament to lackluster prosecution. Grand juries are prosecution-friendly: the prosecutor controls everything the grand jury sees as evidence.

Despite that internal affairs directive and the medical examiner determination of homicide, the NYPD never filed charges.

Why no charges?

Why is Pantaleo still a cop?

When can Eric Garner’s family expect justice?

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22 May 2019

If you want to follow this hearing, I suggest reading The Gothamist (now part of WNYC) and Nick Pinto rather than AP or traditional national media.