NYPD cop admits felony charge against Eric Garner after chokehold death was ‘total mistake’

·3 min read

NEW YORK — One of the officers who wrestled Eric Garner to the ground during his fatal 2014 arrest testified Tuesday to falsely charging the Staten Island man with a felony after riding with his lifeless body in an ambulance.

NYPD Officer Justin D’Amico also claimed he never heard Garner utter his infamous pleas: “I can’t breathe.”

The testimony came on the second day of a historic judicial inquiry into the circumstances of Garner’s fatal arrest on July 17, 2014, and how officials responded to it.

Gideon Oliver, a lawyer for Garner’s mother, peppered D’Amico with questions about arrest paperwork the officer filled out after Garner’s death. D’Amico erroneously charged Garner with a tax-avoidance felony that applies to people in possession of at least 10,000 cigarettes, 22,000 cigars or more than 400 pounds of tobacco.

Garner was known to local cops as a frequent salesman of loose cigarettes, which is illegal.

“This was your job, to address untaxed cigarette conditions, and you didn’t understand the charge?” asked Oliver.

“I didn’t understand the specific charge,” replied D’Amico.

Footage of the chokehold death and its aftermath showed officers empty Garner’s pockets of a cellphone and four sealed packs of untaxed Newports, plus a fifth pack that had been opened.

D’Amico said he mistakenly accused Garner of the felony because he was stressed.

“That was a total mistake,” D’Amico explained of the charge. “Due to the circumstances, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I may have rushed the paperwork a bit.”

The officer then admitted to another error in his paperwork. D’Amico wrote that cops had used no physical force to arrest Garner.

“Who made that mistake?”

“I did,” D’Amico replied.

D’Amico testified that he never heard Garner say “I can’t breathe,” which the dying man yelled out 11 times during the fatal arrest. D’Amico couldn’t remember why he reported that Garner complained of chest pain in a medical treatment form.

“You didn’t hear him say, ‘I can’t breathe' once?” Oliver asked.

“No,” D’Amico said.

D’Amico and ex-Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who choked Garner to death, stopped Garner on Bay Street and Victory Boulevard on the orders of Lt. Christopher Bannon. D’Amico testified that Bannon kept a black book at the 120th Precinct with pictures of Garner and other locals he believed were committing quality-of-life offenses.

Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, described law enforcement’s testimony thus far as “a pack of lies.”

“He was there to target Eric. He got Eric’s photo out of a book of targets,” Carr said of D’Amico. “He should be fired. Bannon should be fired. All of the officers involved should be fired. They all killed Eric. The whole system is guilty.”

Deputy Commissioner Joseph Reznick, head of the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau since 2014, took the stand after D’Amico.

Lawyers for Reznick, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city officials fought doggedly to stop the inquest from happening. They successfully argued against de Blasio and former police Commissioner James O’Neill having to testify.

The petitioners’ primary objective is to probe NYPD top brass on Garner’s fatal arrest and how they conducted the ensuing investigation. Medical care Garner received at the scene and leaks to the media about his sealed arrests and medical history are also subjects of the inquiry.

The judicial inquiry is allowed under a rarely cited section of the city charter that permits the public to demand a court hearing into possible neglect by government officials. The judge will produce no legal rulings or determinations from it.

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