Eric Garner’s family again asks judge to call Mayor de Blasio and NYPD commissioners to testify at inquest

Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News
·4 min read

The family of Eric Garner urged a Manhattan judge Thursday to reconsider calling Mayor de Blasio and current and past NYPD commissioners to testify at a judicial inquiry scrutinizing the circumstances of the Staten Island father’s death.

In a motion filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, lawyers for Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, asked Judge Erika Edwards to require the high-ranking officials to testify based on new evidence from Joseph Reznick, head of the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau.

When Edwards barred city leaders from having to testify in a July ruling, she couldn’t see the whole picture, says the Garner team. Her decision found that people at the Staten Island scene of Garner’s fatal arrest would make better witnesses than Mayor de Blasio and Police Department brass.

“They fill in the necessary gaps,” Alvin Bragg told the judge of de Blasio and the NYPD commissioners’ knowledge. The Manhattan district attorney candidate is one of the lawyers representing Carr and police reform advocates in the inquiry.

“I think we all want to create an enduring record.”

Carr and her allies have long argued that the mayor and the police commissioners were essential to the oversight and cops’ disciplinary process after her son’s killing on July 17, 2014, and that there remain questions only they can answer.

They say Reznick — the highest-ranking NYPD official slated to take the stand at the inquiry — proved their point on Tuesday.

The deputy commissioner testified that the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau has the authority to place the officers responsible on modified duty. But he said the authority did not lie solely with IAB and that the department advocate’s office has the power to impose disciplines, too.

The NYPD department advocate’s office is the unit responsible for prosecuting crooked cops; IAB handles the probes.

Two affidavits filed in the night from Maya Wiley, the former Civilian Complaint Review Board chairwoman and counsel to Mayor de Blasio, and Donovan Richards, the Queens borough president, said Carr’s lawyers were correct. The filings are Wiley and Richards’ first contributions to the inquiry.

Richards said he had first-hand knowledge that the city’s top officials were privy to internal decisions about Garner’s death in city custody from the get-go.

He said de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, First Deputy Police Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, and former police commissioners Bill Bratton and James O’Neill declined to share details with him about probes into Garner’s death when he was chairman of the city Council Public Safety Committee.

“However, they indicated knowledge of and input into the disciplinary process, but were not at liberty to disclose information about an open investigation,” reads Richards’ affidavit.

Former NYPD Deputy Commissioner Kevin Richardson, who ran the department advocate’s office, is another official Edwards excluded from having to testify and who Wiley and Richards claim has answers.

Wiley’s affidavit says the chain of command started with “key decision-maker” Richardson and then led to Tucker, then to Bratton, before September 2016, and O’Neill after Sept. 1, 2016.

The affidavit goes on to say it would have been customary for de Blasio to be briefed and consulted periodically by NYPD brass “throughout the process” in high-profile matters like the Garner case.

Mayor de Blasio deferred to the city Law Department when asked about the motions.

“I know Gwen Carr. I respect her greatly. She’s been through hell,” he said. “There have been consequences for people involved who obviously deserve those consequences. And we changed a lot. We changed a lot about how we police.”

Carr was not impressed.

“The only reason to give fake condolences now is to try to excuse their wrongdoing after the fact,” she said. “This inquiry is about transparency, it’s not about giving the city a chance to do public relations damage control, and it shouldn’t be a platform for those who were never held accountable to try to get favorable media coverage,” she said.

“These officers should be fired, and Eric should be alive.”

The cop who used the deadly chokehold on Garner was canned by the NYPD in August 2019.

City Law Department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci said, “There is no basis for the court to revisit its earlier decision.”

Edwards said she would issue a decision on the motions on Friday.

NYPD Officers Mark Ramos and Craig Furlani, briefly testified Thursday about responding to a radio call for assistance from cops trying to subdue Garner. Ramos admitted he told an EMS worker he thought a dying Garner was “playing possum.”

Sgt. Dhanan Saminath took the stand after Ramos and Furlani. The sergeant said under questioning that he didn’t mean to downplay Garner’s grave condition when he told a dispatcher the 42-year-old was “just” having trouble breathing and not that he was unconscious.

A summary judicial inquiry is allowed under a rarely cited section of the New York City charter. Such a proceeding has not been held in the Big Apple in almost 100 years, say legal experts. Its sole purpose is to be transparent with concerned New Yorkers.

With Chris Sommerfeldt