NEW YORK • A white New York City police officer who used a deadly chokehold on Mr Eric Garner during a 2014 arrest has been fired, five years after video of the encounter fuelled protests in the US against police brutality.
Mr Daniel Pantaleo, 34, was fired on Monday, two weeks after a police department judge found him guilty of reckless assault for using a banned chokehold while trying to arrest Mr Garner, an unarmed black man, on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
Mr Garner's dying words, "I can't breathe!", on a Staten Island sidewalk became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement that aimed to call attention to police killings of unarmed black people.
Police Commissioner James O'Neill announced his decision to accept the judge's recommendation and fire Mr Pantaleo at a news conference on Monday.
He spoke at length in unusually emotional remarks, saying he had empathy for Mr Pantaleo, who had been following orders from his supervisors to crack down on loose cigarette sales, and that he expected police officers would question his decision.
"I've been a cop a long time, and if I was still a cop, I'd probably be mad at me, I would, for not looking out for us," Mr O'Neill said, referring to the more than three decades he had served as a uniformed officer.
Mr Pantaleo's use of a banned chokehold on July 17, 2014, even if only for a few seconds, meant that he could no longer "effectively serve" as a city police officer, Mr O'Neill said.
"In this case, the unintended consequence of Mr Garner's death must have consequences of its own," he said.
Mr Garner's family and civil rights activists said the decision was long overdue.
The head of the powerful city police officers' union decried what he said was a politicised firing that left officers feeling abandoned.
"It is absolutely essential that the world knows that the New York Police Department is rudderless and frozen," Mr Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, told a news conference, standing in front of a department flag that had been symbolically inverted.
"The job is dead," Mr Lynch said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, had long sought to distance himself from the case. Criticism over how long the process has taken nonetheless dogged him as he campaigns around the country to be the Democratic Party nominee in next year's presidential election.
"There was a fair and impartial process and justice was done," Mr de Blasio told a news conference.
Mr Pantaleo himself has not publicly discussed the arrest, and his whereabouts on Monday were unclear. Mr Pantaleo would challenge his firing, his lawyer said.