The death of Eric Garner has reverberated with unanswered questions and fresh developments over the seven years since a New York police officer placed him in a banned chokehold.
But on Friday, the case reached what is expected to be its final major milestone as the judicial inquiry into the 2014 killing of Mr. Garner concluded after two weeks.
The process — ordered under a rarely used provision of the City Charter — was not intended to discipline the officers involved in Mr. Garner’s death. Rather, it was intended to fill in lingering gaps in the public record regarding the killing of Mr. Garner, a 43-year-old from Staten Island, and the multiple investigations that followed.
Even with the hearing now over, Mr. Garner’s case is unlikely to fade from public view. His killing became emblematic of the tensions between Mayor Bill de Blasio and some members of the public over police issues. And his final pleas of “I can’t breathe” are still chanted by protesters of police violence nationwide.
Here are five takeaways from the inquiry:
Mr. Garner’s family was frustrated by the hearing.
Over eight days of testimony from a dozen witnesses from the Police Department, the hearing addressed several longstanding questions in the case. But advocates and relatives of Mr. Garner said it failed to provide true transparency.
Lawyers for the family argued that the testimony of certain witnesses — including Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea and two of his predecessors, members of the department office that imposes discipline, and Mr. de Blasio — was essential to obtain a complete portrait of what happened.
But Judge Erika M. Edwards, a Manhattan Supreme Court justice, repeatedly denied those requests, saying that others had more direct knowledge. (Lawyers could still file motions for additional witnesses if new information arises.)
Gwen Carr, Mr. Garner’s mother, expressed particular frustration with the inquiry, saying she did not find much of the testimony to be credible. She maintains that the officers involved in her son’s death and what she calls a cover-up of its details should be fired.
“We didn’t have what we thought we would get out of this. We need more,” Ms. Carr said on Friday. “I had to sit through and listen to the bunch of lies that continues to go on.”
Officials rejected her assertions that the inquiry was a failure. Sgt. Jessica McRorie, a spokeswoman for the Police Department, said in a statement that the case had been “thoroughly investigated on multiple levels.”
Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the New York City Law Department, added that “so much information” about Mr. Garner’s death has become public and that officials hope the hearing offered a measure of closure for relatives.
Two police sergeants were at the scene; one faced penalties. The judge had questions.
Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who used a prohibited chokehold on Mr. Garner, was fired from the police force in 2019. Only one other person faced penalties in the incident: Sgt. Kizzy Adonis lost 20 vacation days after the department charged her with failing to properly supervise officers involved in the arrest.
Some family members and activists have questioned the decision to discipline only Sgt. Adonis. She testified that she was only at the scene “temporarily” and had been traveling to a meeting when she received a radio call directing her there.
Dhanan Saminath, another police sergeant, was in charge of the scene — though he arrived later — and was “responsible for whatever took place,” Sgt. Adonis said, adding that she had not seen officers use unnecessary force.
Deputy Inspector Charles Barton, the supervisor who oversaw the Police Department’s internal review of the case, said that Sgt. Adonis faced penalties because “she did absolutely nothing” and took “no proactive steps” to help.
“She acted as an observer,” Inspector Barton said. “She did not take control of the situation.”
But Judge Edwards appeared skeptical about the disciplinary decisions.
“I’m trying to figure out, and I think I’m not the only one: How is it that Sgt. Adonis is the only one who got reprimanded out of everybody there — and it wasn’t even her assignment at the moment?” Judge Edwards asked during her testimony.
When a lawyer asked Sgt. Adonis for her reaction to the penalties she faced, she said, “To be honest, I don’t know why I was charged at all. I’m still questioning it.”
Judge Edwards responded, “Me too.”
Information emerged about the investigations into other officers.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent oversight agency that investigates police misconduct, had recommended charges against several officers at the scene, including Sgt. Saminath, citing a failure to supervise.
He was responsible for reporting the misuse of force by officers, lawyers noted. But in his initial interview with investigators, the sergeant did not mention the prohibited chokehold used by Mr. Pantaleo. And when calling for an ambulance, he said that Mr. Garner was “just having some trouble breathing.” An operator categorized the call as a low priority.
Sgt. Saminath said that he did not “mean anything by ‘just’” and that at the time, he did not believe excessive force was used. Internal Affairs investigators rejected the review board’s recommendation, concluding that Sgt. Saminath had acted appropriately.
The review board had also suggested charges against Mr. Pantaleo’s partner, Justin D’Amico, for failing to intervene after the chokehold was used.
Officer D’Amico testified that, at the time, he did not hear Mr. Garner say “I can’t breathe” and that he did not believe the restraint used was a chokehold. Investigators rejected the review board’s recommendation, and did not address the board’s notes that Officer D’Amico pushed Mr. Garner’s head into the ground at one point during the arrest.
Investigators said they also found that officers provided adequate medical care to Mr. Garner before emergency medical workers arrived. Officer William Meems, who had training as an E.M.T., testified that he did not check Mr. Garner’s airway or heart rate. But he said he turned Mr. Garner on his side to help him breathe after he was handcuffed and found a pulse.
Lt. Luke Gasquez, a former lead investigator in the unit of Internal Affairs that probes use-of-force complaints, said it was clear that Officer Meems “immediately” started providing aid once the arrest was in control and that, overall, he saw no issues with the care offered.
Mr. Pantaleo’s partner fell under further scrutiny for the initial arrest.
Officer D’Amico faced additional scrutiny from lawyers. He is the only person to say that he saw Mr. Garner make two cigarette sales before moving to make an arrest.
He said he thought he was about 350 feet from Mr. Garner when he saw a “handoff of a cigarette for what appeared to be money.” He said he saw another exchange as the officers drove closer.
But several eyewitnesses at the scene said they did not see Mr. Garner make a cigarette sale, according to investigators. “In circumstances like this where it’s the word of a single officer, against eight New York City residents, does the officer just win?” Gabriel Jaime-Bettan, a lawyer for the petitioners, asked Lt. Gasquez.
Judge Edwards said the question was inappropriate for the nature of the inquiry. And Lt. Gasquez said that his group still viewed Officer D’Amico’s statements as credible and had found that it was possible for him to see a cigarette sale from his location at the time.
The alleged leak of Mr. Garner’s sealed arrest records remains unresolved.
After Mr. Garner’s death, news outlets including The New York Times reported details from the police about his full arrest record. Several reports noted that he had been arrested more than 30 times.
One document from Internal Affairs said that Mr. Garner had been arrested 33 times since 1988; 10 of those arrests had been sealed, another document showed.
Lawyers said those documents demonstrated that the police had violated state law by releasing information about criminal cases that had been dismissed and sealed.
The leaks represented a major focus of the inquiry. But the matter went largely unresolved, as witnesses including Stephen Davis, the department’s top spokesman at the time of Mr. Garner’s death, said they did not know who had provided the information on the sealed arrests.
Investigators in Internal Affairs said that they did not probe the matter and did not know of accusations related to leaks at the time. “I was not aware of any of this,” Lt. Gasquez said.