One of the officers who wrestled Eric Garner to the ground during his fatal 2014 arrest testified Tuesday to falsely charging the Staten Island dad with a felony after riding with his lifeless body in an ambulance.
NYPD officer Justin D’Amico also claimed he never heard Garner utter his infamous pleas: “I can’t breathe.”
The testimony came on the second day of a judicial inquiry into the circumstances of Garner’s fatal arrest on July 17, 2014, and how officials responded to it.
Gideon Oliver, a lawyer for Garner’s mother, peppered D’Amico with questions about arrest paperwork the cop filled out after Garner’s death.
D’Amico erroneously charged Garner with a tax-avoidance felony that normally applies to people in possession of at least 10,000 cigarettes, 22,000 cigars, or more than 400 pounds of tobacco.
After his death, Garner was found to possess four sealed packs of cigarettes, and a fifth pack that was opened and contained 15 cigarettes. That quantity of cigarettes was far fewer than required by the felony statute D’Amico cited in his report. Under state law, Garner could not have been guilty of more than a misdemeanor.
“This was your job, to address untaxed cigarette conditions, and you didn’t understand the charge?” asked Oliver.
“I didn’t understand the specific charge,” replied D’Amico.
He said he mistakenly accused Garner of the felony because he was stressed.
“That was a total mistake,” D’Amico explained of the charge. “Due to the circumstances, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I may have rushed the paperwork a bit.”
The officer then admitted to another error in his paperwork. D’Amico wrote that cops had used no physical force to arrest Garner.
“Who made that mistake?”
“I did,” D’Amico replied.
D’Amico testified that he never heard Garner say “I can’t breathe,” which the dying man yelled out 11 times during the fatal arrest. D’Amico couldn’t remember why on a medical treatment form he reported that Garner complained of chest pain.
“You didn’t hear him say, ‘I can’t breathe once?’” Oliver asked.
“No,” D’Amico said.
D’Amico and ex-officer Daniel Pantaleo, who choked Garner to death, stopped Garner on Bay St. and Victory Blvd. on the orders of Lt. Christopher Bannon. D’Amico testified that Bannon kept a black book at the 120th precinct with pictures of Garner and other locals he believed were committing quality of life offenses.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, described law enforcement’s testimony thus far as “a pack of lies.”
“He was there to target Eric. He got Eric’s photo out of a book of targets,” Carr said of D’Amico. “He should be fired. Bannon should be fired. All of the officers involved should be fired. They all killed Eric. The whole system is guilty.”
The highest-ranking official who will testify in the inquest, head of the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau Deputy Commissioner Joseph Reznick, said IAB did not punish or investigate D’Amico for logging the false charge.
“It did bother me because of his time of death, what time they filled out the arrest report. Was there an ill intent on (D’Amico’s) part to either deceive or create something that wasn’t there? I don’t think so,” he said.
Reznick said IAB waited to interview the officers present for Garner’s arrest at the behest of the Staten Island district attorney. A grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo in December 2014.
Under questioning by Erika James, co-counsel for Carr and her allies, Reznick said the NYPD’s internal affairs team didn’t probe the source of leaks to the media regarding Garner’s medical and sealed arrest history.
Reznick said IAB slapped NYPD Sgt. Kizzy Adonis with departmental charges and not the other sergeant present at the scene, Dhanan Saminath, because Adonis showed up, rendered no advice to police officers, and then left.
“That’s why,” he added.
Reznick said it was his view that medical care was provided at the scene, one of the inquiry’s main subjects.
“We saw nothing wrong with what the officers did at the scene as far as medical attention,” he said, adding that one officer with EMT training was seen on video rolling Garner onto his side and then calling an ambulance.
“To me when you put all that together, that was care that was provided to Mr. Garner by police officers on the scene.”
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The judicial inquiry is allowed under a rarely cited section of the city charter that permits the public to demand a court hearing into possible neglect by government officials. The judge will produce no legal rulings or determinations from it.
After finishing his testimony, Judge Edwards asked Reznick if there was anything more he wanted to share with the court in the interest of transparency.
“There was no cover-up in this case here,” he said. “Ms. Carr, as a father of three sons, I’m sorry. I cannot imagine how you must feel about the incident. If I had the power to turn back the clock and go back to July 17, 2014, and change the circumstances, I would.”
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