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NYPD Judge Says Officer Charged In Eric Garner's Death Should Be Fired

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The New York police officer charged in the choking death of Eric Garner should lose his job. That recommendation came today from a police department judge. Garner was selling loose cigarettes when Officer Daniel Pantaleo tried to arrest him. From member station WNYC, Cindy Rodriguez has the latest.

CINDY RODRIGUEZ, BYLINE: The judge's recommendation concludes Officer Pantaleo's NYPD disciplinary trial. Pantaleo has never been charged criminally. The city's medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, but a Staten Island grand jury declined to prosecute Pantaleo. And last month, the Justice Department said they would not bring charges. Their investigation dragged on for years. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the system failed the Garner family.

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BILL DE BLASIO: It reinforced a suspicion, as one felt by millions, that justice doesn't exist for people who look like Eric Garner. Today we finally saw a step towards justice and accountability.

RODRIGUEZ: Garner's death sparked national outrage. His last words, I can't breathe, were caught on a cellphone video that went viral. The phrase became a statement for many about the relationship between African Americans and police. Garner's daughter, Emerald Snipes-Garner, believes the mayor could have fired Officer Pantaleo already. The mayor says state law prevented him from doing that. The judge's recommendation will now go to police commissioner James O'Neill, who will make the final decision. Snipes-Garner spoke to reporters today.

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EMERALD SNIPES-GARNER: It's been too long. We've been waiting for five years for someone to say that he did something wrong. And they finally made that decision today. So we don't want to wait no more. Make your decision, Mr. O'Neill, as soon as possible.

RODRIGUEZ: The city's powerful police union called the judge's recommendation to fire Pantaleo political insanity. The judge found Pantaleo acted recklessly when he used a chokehold banned by the NYPD. Union president Patrick Lynch said the judge's decision sends a chilling message to police officers.

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PATRICK LYNCH: New York City police officers now will be considered reckless every time they put their hands on someone. That's what our job is. That's what you expect when you dial 911 when there's a criminal attacking you.

RODRIGUEZ: Lynch accused the mayor of betraying police officers. He's calling on the police commissioner to keep Pantaleo on the job. A decision from O'Neill is expected in the coming weeks.

For NPR News, I'm Cindy Rodriguez, in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXANDRA STRELISKI'S "PLUS TOT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.