One Police Plaza

The Garner Shuffle

June 26, 2017

For the second time, an NYPD training sergeant testified last week before a federal grand jury in Brooklyn hearing testimony in the 2014 “chokehold” death of Eric Garner.

Faced with what police sources have termed a “hostile” grand jury, the sergeant reportedly testified that what the media has described as a department-banned chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo was, in fact, a legitimate police takedown known as a “seat-belt” maneuver.

In contrast to a chokehold, an officer using the maneuver grabs a person around his shoulder from behind and wraps his arm across his chest to restrain him, said a top department official. That way, the official said, the person does not have the use of his arms.

The problem with Pantaleo’s takedown of Garner, said the official, is that cops are trained to use the maneuver on an average-size person. “Cops are trained for a middle-of-the-road situation,” he said. “You don’t train on a midget or a giant.”

Garner was 6-foot-4, 350 pounds. Pantaleo stands about 5-foot-10 and weighs about 165.

The sergeant’s testimony came the same day as a bizarre meeting between Garner’s family members and officials from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in Washington. The meeting was not at the office of the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District in Brooklyn, which had original jurisdiction of the case. Instead, participants met at Brooklyn’s Marriott Hotel. No one from the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn attended and it’s unclear whether the office had even been notified.

The venue reflects the discord surrounding the Garner case. The Eastern District took it over in late 2014, after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo.

The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District then was Loretta Lynch. For a year and half, her office resisted indicting Pantaleo. But after Lynch’s appointment as U.S. attorney, she resurrected the investigation in the waning days of the Obama administration. She assigned Garner’s case to the main Justice Department’s civil rights division.

Center stage at the Marriott was taken by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who had eulogized Garner at his funeral at Brooklyn’s Bethel Baptist Church and led demonstrations in support of Garner’s family and against the police. 

“Despite the Justice Department saying they will have no announcement, the family will brief the press upon their departure,” stated a news release Sharpton issued before the meeting.

Also present at the Marriott were Garner’s widow, Esaw Snipes; his mother, Gwendolyn Carr; and daughter Erica. Two lawyers were also present: Jonathan Moore, who represents the Garner family; and Jason Leventhal, a lawyer representing Legacy, Garner’s 3-year-old daughter by Jewel Miller, with whom Garner lived for three years before his death. Because of her age, Legacy is expected to receive a larger portion than Garner’s four older children of the $5.9 million paid to his estate by the city.

So what happened at the meeting? “The bad news is we were not told they are going to move forward." Sharpton told reporters. “The good news is they said this case is alive and it is not closed.”

During the meeting, which lasted 45 minutes, Erica Garner tweeted: “The DOJ literally gathered my family in one place … after we have been waiting for answers for 3 years to say they can’t answer shit.” 

WHAT’S IN A [FATHER’S] NAME? Maybe Gov. Andrew Cuomo should have consulted his predecessor once removed, Eliot Spitzer, on how to successfully rename a bridge for his father. This after Cuomo’s 11th-hour attempt failed to rename the Malcolm Wilson Bridge — aka, the Tappan Zee — to that of former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

In 2007, Spitzer engineered the renaming of the Triborough Bridge to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. He did so, he said, at the request of the senator’s son, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

“Six months into my being governor, I got a call from Robert Kennedy Jr., who said he had a request from the Kennedy family,” Spitzer explained a couple of months ago, after the death of Jimmy Breslin when NYPD Confidential suggested naming a bridge after the one and only, Mr. J.B.

“I did it because they [the Kennedys] asked,” Spitzer explained. “It’s amazing what can happen if you ask for something. It was an easy lift.”

Unfortunately for Spitzer, he wasn’t around to see the deal go through or to reap the fruits of Kennedy thankfulness. He was forced to resign the following year after being caught with a prostitute. His successor, Gov. David Paterson, finalized the name-change in 2008.

Asked whether he had any advice for Cuomo, Spitzer said only: “Funny — kind of metaphorical for the entire legislative session.”


Copyright © 2017 Leonard Levitt