The family of a black man who died after being placed in a white police officer’s choke-hold have reached a $5.9 million settlement with New York City, days before the anniversary of his death.
Eric Garner’s family in October filed a notice of claim, the first step in filing a lawsuit against the city, asking for $75 million. His death sparked demonstrations and became a flashpoint in a national debate about relations between police and minority communities.
Mr Garner, who was 43, was stopped last 17 July outside a convenience store in the borough of Staten Island because police officers believed he was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. A video shot by an onlooker shows him telling the officers to leave him alone and refusing to be handcuffed.
An officer, Daniel Pantaleo, placed his arm around Mr Garner’s neck to take him to the ground. Mr Garner, who had asthma, is heard gasping “I can’t breathe!” 11 times before he loses consciousness. He was pronounced dead later at a hospital.
The city medical examiner found that the police chokehold contributed to Mr Garner’s death. But a grand jury declined to indict the officer in the death. A federal probe is ongoing.
Choke-holds are banned by New York Police Department policy. Mr Pantaleo says he used a legal “takedown” manoeuvre, not a choke-hold.
While the city has a legal department that fields lawsuits, the comptroller’s office also can settle claims. Comptroller Scott Stringer has made a point of doing so in civil rights cases, saying resolving them quickly saves the city money on legal fees.
“Following a judicious review of the claim and facts of this case, my office was able to reach a settlement with the estate of Eric Garner in the best interests of all parties,” Mr Stringer said.
The city did not admit any liability.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said that hopefully Mr Garner’s family “can find some peace and finality” from the settlement.
“By reaching a resolution, family and other loved ones can move forward even though we know they will never forget this tragic incident,” said Mr de Blasio, who was scheduled to speak yesterday at a church memorial service in Mr Garner’s honour. Longtime civil rights attorney Jonathan Moore, the family’s lawyer, said there also was a settlement with the Richmond University Medical Centre, which responded at the scene.
That settlement is confidential, and there was no one available at the hospital to comment. Mr Moore said there would be a press conference with the Rev Al Sharpton, a prominent civil rights activist, and the family.
Rev Sharpton said the settlement to the family was deserved but didn’t resolve the larger questions around policing and minorities. He said a rally planned for Saturday calling for an expedited federal investigation into Mr Garner’s death would go on as planned.
“We did not march and build a movement just to get money,” he said.
The city has reached settlements in other high-profile cases involving deaths of black men at the hands of police officers. In 2004, the city agreed to pay $3 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of Amadou Diallo, a West African immigrant who was shot by four police officers in 1999.
In 2010, New York agreed to pay $3.25 million to the estate of Sean Bell, who was killed in 2006 outside a strip club while leaving his bachelor party.