Sunday, March 18, 2018

II. Factual and Procedural Background

A. Seizure and Killing of Eric Garner

Eric Garner was a 43-year-old black man; a "gentle giant" that worked as a horticulturist before retiring for health reasons. His death left a mother without her son; a wife without her husband; and six children--including a 3- month-old newborn--without their father. Mr. Garner, according to his friends, would have been the first to admit that he was no angel. He was, instead, a man on a mission to better himself, his family, and the world around him. Mr. Garner had been arrested several times for selling untaxed, loose cigarettes in New York. Due to these arrests, however, he was planning on taking the New York Police Department to trial (with the help of Legal Aid) to plead not guilty, and had filed a 2007 lawsuit to protest the violation of his civil rights.

On the sunny afternoon of July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was approached by a police officer *39 and, again, accused of selling loose cigarettes. According to bystanders, Garner had drawn police attention to himself by breaking up a fight. Mr. Garner told police that he was sick and tired of being harassed by them, and that it needed to stop that day.

Mr. Garner asked the officers, softly and in keeping with his "gentle giant" persona, to "please just leave me alone." That is when Pantaleo put Mr. Garner in a chokehold and several officers tackled him to the ground and attempted to handcuff him. Mr. Garner swatted his arms away, saying, "don't touch me, please." Pantaleo then choked Mr. Garner from behind, using a technique that is banned by the NYPD, and yanked him toward the concrete sidewalk. As five officers surrounded Mr. Garner, Pantaleo pulled back his arm and shoved his face into the pavement. Mr. Garner told them he couldn't breathe eleven times, each instance more desperate than the last.

Although Mr. Garner quickly fell unconscious, the police supervisors standing by failed to intercede. One supervisor later reported, before knowledge of the eyewitness video, that she did not respond to Mr. Garner's calls for help because his condition never deteriorated and was not serious. Garner lay, unattended and unresponsive, for several minutes before the ambulance arrived. No police officer ever made an attempt to resuscitate Mr. Garner and even the four emergency medical personnel who arrived with the ambulance did not dispense any medical aid or immediately transfer him to a stretcher. Eric Garner had a fatal heart attack while being transported *40 to the hospital.

B. Domestic Legal Proceedings

1. Criminal Proceedings

On August 1, 2014, it was determined that Eric Garner's death was caused by compression of the neck, compression of the chest, "[ ... ] and prone positioning during physical restraint by police." On August 1, 2014, a medical examiner for the State of New York announced that Mr. Garner had been killed intentionally, and his death was ruled a homicide.

Despite the medical examiner's findings, the Staten Island District Attorney submitted Mr. Garner's case to a grand jury. On December 3, 2014, the grand jury announced that it would not return an indictment. While the U.S. Department of Justice is currently reviewing the possibility of civil rights violations in Eric Garner's death, the investigation has languished for over two years.

2. Civil Proceedings

On October 7, 2014, reeling from the death of their son, husband and father, Eric Garner's family filed a 75-million-dollar claim for wrongful death against the City of New York. On July 13, 2015, the dejected family of Mr. Garner announced a 5.9-million-dollar settlement with the City of New York, meanwhile proclaiming that "a settlement is not justice," and it does not serve to right the civil rights violations endured by Eric Garner, and other blacks like him. As the government's failure to impose criminal consequences on anyone involved in Mr. Garner's death was cemented, the family also reached a pre-litigation settlement with Richmond University Medical Center, the employer of the involved emergency medical technicians.

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