A $5.9 Million Settlement Caps a Turbulent Year for Eric Garner's Family

Eric Garner was killed last year by NYPD officers on Staten Island.
Eric Garner was killed last year by NYPD officers on Staten Island.
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The family of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man whose chokehold death at the hands of an NYPD officer last year helped touch off an ongoing movement against heavy-handed policing in America, has reached a $5.9 million settlement with the city of New York. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced the agreement Monday night.

According to Stringer’s statement, the city has taken no responsibility for Garner’s death, which is typical in suits involving claims of police brutality.

His office issued this statement:

Following a judicious review of the claim and facts of this case, my office was able to reach a settlement with the estate of Eric Garner that is in the best interests of all parties. We are all familiar with the events that lead [sic] to the death of Eric Garner and the extraordinary impact his passing has had on our City and our nation. It forced us to examine the state of race relations, and the relationship between our police force and the people they serve. While we cannot discuss the details of this settlement, and the City has not admitted liability, I believe that we have reached an agreement that acknowledges the tragic nature of Mr. Garner’s death while balancing my office’s fiscal responsibility to the City.

According to the New York Times, the settlement is among the largest in the city’s history for a single individual in an alleged police misconduct case, and possibly the largest.

The one-year anniversary of Garner’s death, which came during an arrest for alleged sale of untaxed cigarettes, is on Friday.

Garner’s death, and a bystander’s video that captured it all in wrenching detail, prompted an immediate if limited outcry, with scattered demonstrations; Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conferences within a day to promise a full investigation.

But the relatively small protests following Garner’s death were soon eclipsed by the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, just a few weeks later. What many saw as an extreme, overtly militarized response to those demonstrations in turn sparked a broader movement; the first major demonstration over Garner’s death came in August, only after Brown’s killing. When a grand jury, in December of 2014, declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer seen on film administering the chokehold, the outcry was reignited.

Erica Garner, Eric’s daughter, did not immediately return a message for comment by press time. 

De Blasio's office announced late Monday that the mayor "will deliver remarks at the Commission of Religious Leaders Interfaith Worship Service in memory of Eric Garner" on Tuesday night at Mt. Sinai United Christian Church on Staten Island.

Here's a timeline of the past year, beginning with Garner's death:

  • July 17, 2014: Eric Garner is confronted by the NYPD on Staten Island, for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, and placed in a chokehold. He dies at the scene. A video of the incident is uploaded to LiveLeak.

  • July 18, 2014: Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton hold a press conference about the incident. "Like so many New Yorkers," de Blasio says, "I was very troubled by the video I reviewed earlier today."

  • July 23, 2014: Eric Garner's funeral is held on Staten Island, drawing police and protesters.

  • August 1, 2014: A New York City medical examiner rules Garner's death a homicide.

  • August 6, 2014: Eric Garner's death dominates the conversation at a meeting of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent NYPD watchdog group. It's reported that more than 1,000 citizen complaints against the NYPD about chokeholds had been filed in the last several years, despite the tactic being banned in the NYPD for more than twenty years.

  • August 9, 2014: Michael Brown, a black teenager in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, is fatally shot by police. The outrage boils into riots there. 

  • August 19, 2014: It is announced that a grand jury on Staten Island will review evidence on Eric Garner's death.

  • August 20, 2014: Several people are arrested during a march against police brutality on the Lower East Side.

  • August 23, 2014: Thousands join the "We Will Not Go Back" march on Staten Island, organized by the Reverend Al Sharpton.

  • September 5, 2014: Staten Island public school teachers are furious they aren't allowed to wear T-shirts announcing their support of the NYPD on the first day of school.

  • October 7, 2014: Eric Garner's family files a notice of claim to sue the city and the NYPD for $75 million, citing "negligence, recklessness, and carelessness" by the police that resulted in Garner's death.

  • December 3, 2014: A Staten Island grand jury returns no indictment against Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who killed Eric Garner. After the announcement, protesters sweep through Manhattan.

  • December 5, 2014: More than 200 people are arrested protesting the NYPD.

  • December 12, 2014: Set against the protests in Manhattan, Garner's family, including his six children, remember him quietly on Staten Island.

  • December 19, 2014: After weeks of protests against the NYPD, supporters of the department hold a "Thank You NYPD" rally at City Hall...which draws more counter-protesters.

  • March 19, 2015: A judge rules the grand jury transcripts will not be made public. (Similar documents in the Michael Brown case, where the officer was also not indicted, were released, a rare measure taken by the district attorney there.)

  • July 13, 2015: New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announces $5.9 million settlement with Garner's family and the City of New York.

*** 
Jon Campbell is a staff writer for the Voice, covering criminal justice, legal issues, and the occasional mutant park squirrel. Tip him at jcampbell@villagevoice.com and follow him on Twitter at @j0ncampbell.


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