New York in $5.9m settlement over Eric Garner death

Unarmed man (43) died after Staten Island encounter in which police used chokehold

Candles are seen at a memorial for Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York last year. New York City has reached a settlement with the family of Mr  Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by police last July, agreeing to pay $5.9 million to resolve the claim. Photograph: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters.

Candles are seen at a memorial for Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York last year. New York City has reached a settlement with the family of Mr Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by police last July, agreeing to pay $5.9 million to resolve the claim. Photograph: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters.

 

New York City reached a settlement with the family of Eric Garner on Monday, agreeing to pay $5.9 million (€5.3 million) to resolve a wrongful death claim over his killing by the police on Staten Island last July, the city comptroller and a lawyer for the family said.

The agreement, reached a few days before the anniversary of Mr Garner’s death, headed off one legal battle even as a federal inquiry into the killing and several others at the state and local level remain open and could provide a further details of how he died.

The settlement was a pivotal moment in a case that has engulfed the city and the Police Department since the afternoon of July 17th, 2014, when two officers approached Mr Garner (43) as he stood unarmed on a sidewalk and accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes. One of the officers used a chokehold - prohibited by the Police Department - to subdue him, and that was cited by the medical examiner as a cause of Mr Garner’s death.

The death, followed by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August, set off a national debate about policing actions in minority communities and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.

I can’t breathe’

Mr Garner’s final words - “I can’t breathe” - repeated 11 times, became a national rallying cry. A Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, fueled weeks of demonstrations. The protests eased after two police officers in Brooklyn were fatally shot in December by a man who suggested he was avenging the deaths of Mr Garner and Mr Brown.

The killings of the officers shook the city anew, deepening tensions between the police and Mayor Bill de Blasio and slowing a push to enact a host of criminal justice reforms. Last year, Mr Garner’s relatives, including his widow, Esaw Garner, and his mother, Gwen Carr, filed a notice of claim - a procedural step that must precede a lawsuit against the city. In the notice, they said were seeking $75 million in damages. Since then, the family has been in talks with the city comptroller’s office.

“Mr Garner’s death is a touchstone in our city’s history and in the history of the entire nation,” the comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, said in a telephone interview late on Monday. “Financial compensation is certainly not everything, and it can’t bring Mr Garner back. But it is our way of creating balance and giving a family a certain closure.”

The family had given the city a deadline of Friday, the anniversary of the death, to come to an agreement or the relatives would move forward with the lawsuit, Jonathan C. Moore, the lawyer for Mr Garner’s family, said.

The agreement came after months of halting negotiations. It was among the biggest reached so far as part of a strategy by Mr Stringer to settle major civil rights claims even before a lawsuit is filed. He has said the aim is to save taxpayers the expense, and families the pain, of a long legal process. He said five lawyers from his office were involved in the negotiations, which ended on Monday.

But the resolution of the legal claim against the city did not provide any greater clarity on the actions of the officers that day or on the policing strategies that have come under criticism in the year that has followed.

NYT