Hearing In Historic Judicial Inquiry Held To Examine NYPD Coverup In Eric Garner Killing

2014 NYPD killing of Eric Garner and subsequent cover-up.
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Photos: Twitter

New York, NY--Thursday, the New York State Supreme Court held its final hearing in Carr v. de Blasio, the historic judicial inquiry into violations and neglect of duty by New York City and NYPD officials, related to the 2014 NYPD killing of Eric Garner and subsequent cover-up.

Presided over by New York State Supreme Court Justice Erika M. Edwards, the fall 2021 court inquiry raised significant questions and exposed violations and neglect of duty on the part of NYPD officials and officers related to the killing of Eric Garner and the subsequent cover-up. During the course of the inquiry, testimony revealed neglect and violations of duty, including:

  • Lt. Christopher Bannon admitted that he saw no illegal activity but still ordered officers to go to the location where Mr. Garner was killed. Evidence admitted during the inquiry also revealed that Lt. Bannon texted another officer that it was “not a big deal” that Eric Garner might be “dead on arrival.”
  • Officer Justin Damico was at least 350 feet away from Mr. Garner when he allegedly observed him selling cigarettes. Other witnesses have testified in various fora that Mr. Garner had broken up a fight and was not selling cigarettes when he was stopped by Officer Damico and former Officer Pantaleo. Officer Damico also filed false felony charges against Eric Garner, after he knew he was deceased.
  • Former NYPD Deputy Commissioner Joseph Reznick didn’t fully investigate the illegal stop that led to officers killing Eric Garner and failed to initiate any investigation of illegal leaks of Eric Garner’s personal information. Earlier this year, Reznick was forced out of the NYPD.

Thursday, Justice Edwards ruled that documents and materials from the judicial inquiry will be made public by July 20, 2022. In the coming period, the court is expected to make final determinations on corrections and redactions that will be made in the public record.

Justice Edwards is also presiding over lawsuits filed by Eric Garner’s mother, the Justice Committee and Communities United for Police Reform against the NYPD and Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to obtain full disclosure of records related to the city’s investigation, and (lack of) discipline of officers involved in Eric Garner’s killing. Attorney Gideon Oliver and attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell represent the petitioners in Carr v. de Blasio and the related Article 78 lawsuits.

Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr (she/her) and other petitioners, responded to Thurday’s final hearing.

“I have been fighting for years to get the NYPD to fire the officers who helped kill my son and helped cover it up,” said Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner. “We fought for this once-in-a-century judicial inquiry and it exposed some of the misconduct by city officials and the NYPD, but officers who did wrong like Justin Damico and Lt. Christopher Bannon are still getting paid by the city which is very frustrating. Almost eight years later, the City is still trying to block releasing all records but we're going to keep fighting for all the information we requested in our FOIL too. Mayor Adams has a chance to make things right and that's what we're asking him to do - he should make sure Damico, Bannon and others are fired and he should direct his law department to stop hiding information and release all the documents we've requested in the FOIL."

“This historic judicial inquiry exposed many of the ways the NYPD and City officials refused to fully investigate one of the most high-profile police killings of our generation – and as a result, they let officers who helped kill Eric Garner and higher-ups who helped cover it up stay on NYPD payroll,” said Loyda Colon, Executive Director of the Justice Committee and Carr v. de Blasio petitioner. “Since former Mayor de Blasio failed in many ways, it’s now up to Mayor Adams to show that he’ll be different by starting proceedings to fire officer Justin Damico, Lt. Christopher Bannon and others who engaged in misconduct.”

“This entire court process was a series of orchestrated roadblocks and fiery hoops that Eric Garner’s family has had to jump through just to get a basic level of transparency, and it’s infuriating. However, we are not deterred,” said Monifa Bandele, a petitioner in the case and member of Malcom X Grassroots Movement. “The judicial inquiry exposed many of the ways former Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD shielded officers and high-ranking officials from discipline for their misconduct, and we expect to get more information from our FOIL. We will continue to stand with Gwen Carr and her family until there is measurable accountability for the murder of Eric Garner. All police officers must be fired and the extent of their misconduct and administrative cover-up must be made public.”

“It has taken eight years to get to this point of transparency, and we still have more barriers to overcome to reach a semblance of justice,” said Kesi Foster, a petitioner in the case representing Make the Road New York and Co-Executive Director at Partners for Dignity and Rights. “This case is about ensuring that New Yorkers can walk down the street without the fear of being attacked or killed by the police at will. After almost a decade since Eric was killed, the message that the Mayor’s Office and NYPD are sending to officers is ‘you can kill a New Yorker, and we’ve got your back.’ If they won't hold all officers responsible for one of the most high-profile heinous acts of police violence caught on camera. How can New Yorkers believe they will hold officers accountable for the harassment and abuse not caught on camera?"

Background:

On August 27, 2019, Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Ellisha Flagg-Garner, sister of Eric Garner; Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham; Loyda Colon of Justice Committee; Joo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform; Monifa Bandele of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; Mark Winston Griffith of Brooklyn Movement Center; and Kesi Foster of Make the Road New York, filed a historic petition regarding violations and neglect of duty by the Mayor of New York City, the NYPD Police Commissioner, and other New York City officials related to the killing of Eric Garner.

The petition was brought under Section 1109 of the New York City Charter, a “sunlight” provision. The lawyers for the petitioners include the Law Offices of Gideon Oliver, and Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.

After the City moved to dismiss the lawsuit, Justice Joan A. Madden issued a decision on September 24, 2020, allowing a judicial inquiry to move forward with respect to alleged violations and neglect of duty in connection with:

(1) the stop, arrest, and use of force against Mr. Garner;

(2) the filing of false official documents concerning Mr. Garner's arrest;

(3) the leaking of Mr. Garner's alleged arrest history and medical condition in the autopsy report; and

(4) the alleged lack of medical care provided to Mr. Garner by police officers. The judicial inquiry also examined violations and neglect of duties related to the discipline, or lack thereof, for the officers, in relation to the categories above.

The City tried to block the petition by filing a notice of appeal and by attempting to argue that there was an automatic stay to all further proceedings before the Supreme Court while the City’s appeal was pending, which was rejected, and a court denied the appeal on July 15, 2021. Following Justice Madden’s retirement from the bench, Justice Erika M. Edwards was assigned to preside over the case.

The judicial inquiry began in New York State Supreme Court on October 25 and lasted for approximately two weeks, until November 5, 2021.

Deputy Commissioner Joseph Reznick was compelled to testify, along with Officer Justin Damico, Lt. Christopher Bannon, Officers William Meems, Mark Ramos, Craig Furlani, Sgt. Dhanan Saminath, Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, Captain Bekim Kalicovic, Lt. Luke Gasquez, Deputy Inspector Charles Barton, and Deputy Commissioner Steven Davis.

In addition to the petition brought under Section 1109, Gwen Carr, the Justice Committee, and Communities United for Police Reform filed a Freedom of Information Law request to the NYPD and the Civilian Complaint Review Board relating to Mr. Garner’s arrest and killing. That FOIL request is still being litigated.

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