New York- NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was caught on video putting 43-year-old Eric Garner in an apparent chokehold resulting in death last Thursday over suspicion of selling loose cigarettes, has already been named as defendant in two civil suits that alleged improper police conduct including lying and false arrest.
A civil suit, settled in January, accused Pantaleo and several other officers of unlawfully stopping a vehicle operated by Morris Wilson in New Brighton back in March 2012. The lawsuit also alleged that Pantaleo and another officer had pulled down the pants and underwear of plaintiffs Darren Collins and Tommy Rice in public view in the middle of the day.
After the vehicle was stopped, passengers Collins and Rice were ordered out of the vehicle. Collins and Rice were handcuffed, and shortly afterwards Pantaleo and Officer Ignazio Conca “pulled down the plaintiffs’ pants and underwear, and touched and searched their genital areas, or stood by while this was done in their presence,” according to the lawsuit.
Collins and Rice were then taken by Pantaleo to the 120th Precinct station where they were strip-searched again, ordered “to remove all of their clothing, squat, cough and lift their genitals.” Wilson, the driver in the vehicle stop, took a plea deal after admitting to possessing drugs in his pocket. However, Jason Leventhal, the attorney for Collins and Rice, said that the officers were allowed to arrest everyone in the car because Pantaleo had falsely claimed that drugs were in plain view in the car.
“One of the fundamental, most important things a police officer needs to do is to tell the truth,” said Leventhal. “He has no right to strip-search anyone in the middle of the street.”
Collins and Rice had been criminally charged after the arrest and search, but the charges were eventually dismissed. Both men received $15,000 from the city in the settlement.
The second lawsuit against Pantaleo remains open. There are few details, but plaintiff Rylawn Walker filed a suit in February accusing Pantaleo of arresting him despite “committing no crime at that time” and “not acting in a suspicious manner.” Walker’s lawsuit alleges that Pantaleo “misrepresented facts in the police reports and other documents that the plaintiff had committed offenses when in fact this was not true.”
Walker had been charged with marijuana-related offenses that were later dismissed.
The latest action from Pantaleo has spurred national outrage, as disturbing video was released that showed Pantaleo in plainclothes placing Eric Garner in an apparent chokehold and not letting go even after Garner, an asthmatic man, repeatedly pleaded with the officers surrounding him “I can’t breathe.” Police claim that Garner was selling “loosies”- single, untaxed cigarettes- and that Garner has been arrested for this in the past.
The man who took the video, 22-year-old Ramsey Orta, tried to intermediate and told police that Garner was not selling cigarettes but had actually just broken up a fight between three men. The officers did not appear to heed Orta’s account of the situation.
Additional video released on Saturday showed police surrounding Garner after he collapsed following the chokehold offering no medical assistance to the man. Garner was not given immediate CPR or oxygen when EMTs arrived, but rather loaded onto a stretcher and taken away. When a witness asked why CPR wasn’t being performed, an officer answered, “Cause he’s breathing.” Pantaleo is seen waving at the person recording the aftermath, while chatting with another officer.
Pantaleo has since been placed on desk duty with his badge and gun taken away while an investigation is underway. A second unnamed officer was placed on desk duty following Garner’s death but did not have his badge and gun removed. Two paramedics and two EMTs who were called to respond to Garner’s collapse were put on “modified duty” and banned from ambulance calls while an investigation into the response call ensues.
Garner’s son, Eric Snipes, expressed anger toward Pantaleo for the death of his father. “I want to ask the man that did it, ‘What made you choke him like that?’ What made him put his hand around his bare neck?” Snipes said.