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2015: Eric Garner's family speaks out one year later
03:33 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Eric Garner died on Staten Island following apparent chokehold one year ago

His family reached pretrial settlement with city this week

Garner's death triggered nationwide protests

New York CNN  — 

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner spoke his last words on a city block near his home on Staten Island.

“I can’t breathe.”

Cell phone video showed the 43-year-old lying motionless on the ground after being put in an apparent chokehold by a New York City police officer. Several officers had approached Garner for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. Police said he suffered a heart attack and died en route to the hospital.

Garner’s death fueled months of anti-police protests across the nation, his final plea becoming a rallying cry.

One year later, here’s an update on some of the principals affected by or involved with Garner’s case.

Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner

In the year since her son’s death, Gwen Carr has been vocal in her pursuit of justice for those who have died at the hands of police. Often appearing alongside the Rev. Al Sharpton and mothers of other slain black men, Carr has become a familiar face while working to hold accountable those she believes caused her son’s death.

Last week, she stood behind Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he signed an order creating a special prosecutor position to review all deaths of unarmed New Yorkers at the hands of law enforcement.

On Monday, the New York City Comptroller’s office announced a $5.9 million pretrial settlement stemming from her son’s death on the city sidewalk.

Comptroller Scott Stringer said the settlement was in the “best interests of all parties,” and said that while the multimillion dollar settlement “acknowledges the tragic nature of Mr. Garner’s death… the city has not admitted liability.”

At a press conference Wednesday, Carr told reporters that she’s not done fighting: “Don’t congratulate us – this is not a victory. The victory will come when we get justice.”

Opinion: Where is real justice for Garner?

Daniel Pantaleo, NYPD police officer

Daniel Pantaleo was the plainclothes NYPD officer whose takedown was seen around the world. In December, a Staten Island grand jury determined Pantaleo was not criminally responsible for Garner’s death, which was termed a “homicide” by the city medical examiner.

Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, told CNN after the non-indictment that Pantaleo had claimed he never used a chokehold.

“He used a takedown technique he was taught in the academy,” London said. “He said he never exerted any pressure on the windpipe and never intended to injure Mr. Garner.”

The NYPD this week said Pantaleo remains on modified duty and behind a desk – off the streets and stripped of his gun and badge – pending the release of an internal NYPD investigation into Garner’s arrest.

London has not replied to CNN’s requests for comment, but he told the New York Daily News last week that his client – despite enough death threats to warrant a police detail – still hopes to return to full duty.

Esaw Garner, Garner’s widow

The widow of Eric Garner is still grieving.

“It’s really hard, it is,” she told CNN on Wednesday. “I’ve got to be strong. I can’t let it break me down and go into a depression and get myself sick.”

Her six children don’t let her watch the full video of her husband’s arrest and death, but she’s seen his final moments and heard the echoes of his final words, “I can’t breathe,” across the country.

“At first when they were saying it, I would break down every time they said it,” Garner said. “But then, as the movement went on, I took it as an empowerment and it’d keep me strong when I heard them yelling.”

Daniel Donovan, prosecutor

Daniel Donovan gained national attention as the district attorney for Richmond County, New York. He presented the case against Pantaleo to the grand jury. A son of Staten Island, he grew up in the same neighborhood Garner was killed.

Donovan now resides in Washington and is the sole congressman for his home borough. Donovan’s campaign unfolded in the wake of the Garner case, though he largely avoided the topic.

“It certainly wasn’t something that he put out there as a calling card for himself,” said Alexander Burns, who reported on the race while working as a metro political reporter for the New York Times. “His campaign was largely about advancing Staten Island’s very local priorities,” Burns said.

Elected handily as a Republican in May, Donovan’s agenda hasn’t so far included criminal justice reform, though it’s something his office says he is open to.

“The congressman has also said he will look at all criminal justice reform measures with an open mind and weigh each one on the merits; however, it is often said that difficult cases make bad laws and we must be judicious with any potential changes to a criminal justice system that is the best in the world,” a spokeswoman said.

Donovan opposed a push by civil rights activists and the Garner family in city court to release testimony from the grand jury, which heard 50 witnesses testify. A judge in March denied their petition.

First responders

Cell phone video taken by witness Taisha Allen shows the moment first responders from Richmond University Medical Center arrived on Bay Street to find an unconscious Garner.

In the video, Garner lies unresponsive as a medical worker takes his pulse. No oxygen is administered on scene and a stretcher does not appear in the video until at least two minutes after workers first approach Garner – a response Allen and others have said was not adequate.

A spokesman for Richmond University Medical Center would not comment on the response by workers one year ago, but told CNN a settlement – the terms of which are confidential – was reached earlier this week with the Garner family.

Of the five workers who responded, two EMTs are being kept off calls on modified duty, and two medical technicians have returned to active duty. One trainee who was on scene for Garner’s treatment last year is no longer with the hospital, the spokesman said.

Garner children

One year after the death of their father, Garner’s children have taken up his legacy as a cause. “My ultimate goal is that people just don’t forget who he was and how we’re working towards change,” said Emerald Garner, who now works with Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Along with her family, Emerald is working to form a foundation in her father’s name to support underserved communities.

Her sister, Erica, has led marches with the Black Lives Matter movement and staged die-ins, once lying down on the same stretch of sidewalk that her father was killed on.

Ramsey Orta, witness

Since recording the final moments of Eric Garner’s life on his cell phone, Ramsey Orta, a friend of Garner’s who had lunch with him the day he died, has been in and out of Rikers Island, a New York City jail.

He was arrested on charges he passed off a stolen handgun in August and later on drug charges.

With each arrest, Orta and his lawyers have denied wrongdoing and claimed he was being harassed and retaliated against for his role in the fallout after Garner’s death. “Had he not filmed the Eric Garner video, I can’t imagine they’d be treating him like this,” said William Aronin, one of his attorneys.

Taisha Allen, witness

Taisha Allen lives minutes from where Garner died and was there for the fatal encounter, cell phone in hand. A video she took shows the treatment by the first responders who arrived as Garner lay on the ground, after he’d uttered his final “I can’t breathe.”

Allen testified before the grand jury last year, and told CNN on Wednesday that what she saw was not a proper medical response: “Not at all. When they came on the scene, they didn’t have none of their equipment on them, they didn’t have bags for oxygen.” It appeared as though the responders thought Garner was “faking it,” she said.

Allen this week has filed suit against the city of New York, claiming she was harassed and subject to excessive force during an arrest in February. She claims an NYPD officer told her, “You are that bitch that filmed the Eric Garner video.” Allen was then arrested after being slammed on the ground and dragged by an officer, the suit alleges.

Allen later pleaded guilty on reduced charges of resisting arrest and obstruction. A spokesman for the New York City Law Department said the allegations in the suit will be reviewed.

CNN’s Boris Sanchez and Lawrence Crook III contributed to this report.