Former New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo is suing New York City, the NYPD and its commissioner James O’Neill over his termination related to the 2014 death of Eric Garner, Pantaleo’s attorney told CNN.
Pantaleo was accused of fatally choking Garner.
The former officer was fired in August after being found guilty in a disciplinary trial of using a chokehold on Garner. The New York man’s final words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Attorney Stuart London told CNN he filed court documents on behalf of Pantaleo on Wednesday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.
“We will have many arguments, not the least of which will be the ridiculousness of the reckless assault convictions … in which all of his contacts with Mr. Garner were appropriate and taught in the academy,” London said. He said that Pantaleo never put any pressure on Garner’s neck and that he likely died from either a lung or heart condition.
“Had Mr. Garner not resisted and not had such a compromised health situation, the result may have been very different,” London said.
The NYPD referred CNN to the New York City Law Department for comment.
A spokesman for the law department told CNN it “will defend the Administrative Law Judge’s finding and recommendation and the Police Commissioner’s decision.”
CNN has also reached out to Mayor Bill de Blasio for comment.
Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network was critical of the decision to file the lawsuit.
“Pantaleo’s decision to seek his reinstatement is not only disrespectful to the Police Commissioner and NYPD, but also the Garner family,” Sharpton said in a statement. “He has shown no contrition or acknowledgment of his violent actions that ultimately killed Eric Garner.”
NYPD administrative judge recommended firing
Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, was allegedly selling loose cigarettes illegally on Staten Island in 2014.
In video of the arrest, Pantaleo can be seen wrapping one arm around Garner’s shoulder and the other around his neck before jerking him back and pulling him to the ground. As Pantaleo forces Garner’s head into the sidewalk, Garner could be heard saying “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” He died shortly afterward.
The disciplinary trial focused on whether Pantaleo used a department-banned chokehold.
Pantaleo denied that he used the maneuver, but NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado ruled that the chokehold triggered a series of events that culminated with Garner’s death, according to the report, which CNN obtained from a source familiar with the matter.
Maldonado wrote that the chokehold “fell so far short of objective reasonableness that this tribunal found it to be reckless.”
However, Pantaleo was found not guilty of restricting Garner’s breathing, a charge that had more to do with Pantaleo’s intent, the judge wrote.
Maldonado recommended that Pantaleo be fired. Commissioner James O’Neill agreed to the termination, but expressed that the decision was not easy.
“Had I been in (Pantaleo’s) situation, I may have made similar mistakes,” he said.
Despite the disciplinary trial, Pantaleo has avoided criminal charges in the death. A grand jury in New York declined to indict the officer in 2014, and the city of New York settled with Garner’s estate for $5.9 million in 2015. The Justice Department declined to bring federal civil rights charges in July.
CNN’s Josh Girsky, Shimon Prokupecz, Brynn Gingras and Mark Morales contributed to this report.