When it seemed Eric Garner would die after his confrontation with police officers on Staten Island, an NYPD lieutenant testified Thursday that he texted subordinates, “not a big deal, you were affecting a lawful arrest.”
Lt. Christopher Bannon, testifying at the police disciplinary trial of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, said he made the statement not to seem callous but to calm cops down in the emotionally charged aftermath of Garner’s death during his arrest on July 17, 2014.
Pantaleo is on trial at NYPD headquarters on administrative charges he assaulted Garner, 43, and strangled him after officers responded to a call about possible illegal loose cigarette sales. Garner, an obese man with numerous health problems, died from an asthma attack after Pantaleo and other cops wrestled him to the ground.
Garner’s family members said Bannon’s testimony horrified them and they want him fired.
“If one of your loved ones and one of his loved ones was on the ground dead and someone comes up to you and said ‘No big deal,’ how would you feel about it?,” Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, asked reporters outside the courtroom. “I think this officer should be off the force. He shouldn’t be in charge of anybody.”
Bannon testified Thursday as a defense witness and said that as Pantaleo’s supervisor, he gave him a high rating as a cop.
“He was one of the best officers I supervised,” Bannon said.
The day Garner died he had two prior arrests for selling loose cigarettes, the lieutenant testified. Garner’s arrest by officers with the 120th Precinct was logged-in despite the fact he was dead, Bannon said. While he wasn’t present during the arrest of Garner at 220 Bay Street, Bannon exchanged text messages with other officers, one of whom had reported an individual was “unresponsive.”
“No a big deal, you were affecting a lawful arrest,” Bannon said he texted back. The remark sparked murmurs in the courtroom and spurred NYPD trial judge Rosemarie Maldonado to caution audience members to refrain from making comments.
On cross examination, Civilian Complaint Review Board attorney Suzanne O’Hare asked Bannon: “Isn’t it a big deal that Eric Garner is dead?” The question drew an objection from Pantaleo's defense attorney Stuart London. Maldonado sustained the objection and Bannon didn’t have to answer.
The review board is trying the case in the NYPD trial room. At the trial's conclusion, Maldonado could recommend to Police Commissioner James O’Neill that Pantaleo be fired or given a lesser penalty.
A city medical examiner testified Wednesday that Garner died from a “lethal cascade” of events caused by a chokehold and chest compression that exacerbated his existing medical conditions and lead to the fatal asthma attack. Garner wasn’t choked to death or asphyxiated, the medical examiner said.
Pantaleo’s trial is expected to continue Tuesday with more defense witnesses.