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NY appeals court backs inquiry of Garner chokehold death

July 15, 2021 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York appeals court ruled Thursday that a judicial inquiry is warranted into the investigation of Eric Garner’s 2014 police chokehold death, denying the city’s push to cancel the proceeding.

In a unanimous decision, the appellate division of the state’s trial court found that Garner’s death is the “rare case in which allegations of significant violations of duty, coupled with a serious lack of substantial investigation and public explanation, warrant a summary inquiry to bring transparency to a matter of profound public importance: the death of an unarmed civilian during the course of an arrest.”

The ruling was made two days before the seventh anniversary of Garner’s death.

Garner’s mother and sister, joined by police reform advocates, have been seeking such an inquiry since 2019 under a provision of the city charter that allows the courts to act as a check on the actions of city government. They want the city to turn over troves of records and put city officials including Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner on the witness stand.

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Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, and sister, Ellisha Flagg Garner, allege that de Blasio and other city officials neglected their duties in their handling of Garner’s death.

“Today’s decision from the court affirms that I, other petitioners, and New Yorkers deserve answers about the neglect and violation of duties of the de Blasio administration related to the murder of my son, refusal to fire other officers responsible for misconduct, and the related cover-up,” Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said in a statement.

The judicial inquiry is scheduled to begin Oct. 25. The city said it is reviewing its legal options.

In a statement reacting to the ruling, the city’s law department reiterated its argument to the appeals court that Garner’s death has already been thoroughly examined, including in media reports and the NYPD’s 2019 disciplinary trial that resulted in the firing of the officer who used the chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo.

A sergeant who responded to the scene agreed to forfeit 20 days of vacation time to resolve her disciplinary case. No other police personnel involved in Garner’s death have been fired.

“So much information about this incident has been made publicly available and there is no evidence that the mayor or any other senior city official neglected their duties or violated the law,” the statement said. “We argued that the summary inquiry that the petitioners sought was outside the scope of this very narrow and rarely used type of proceeding.”

Bystander video showed Pantaleo, who is white, wrapping his arm around the neck of Garner, who was Black, as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to a Staten Island sidewalk. Officers were trying to arrest Garner for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

Garner’s dying gasps of “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry among police reform activists.

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.