Just days before the anniversary of his death at the hands of city police – an incident that fueled nationwide debate and protests around the policing of minorities – Eric Garner’s family reached a settlement Monday with the city of New York.
Mr. Garner’s estate, which filed a lawsuit against the city in October for damages related to his death, will receive $5.9 million, according to reports.
“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,” said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, whose office deals with claims against the city.
While the city did not admit any liability in Garner’s death, the amount is the largest ever the city has reached in a case involving the death of a black man in the hands of a white officer. The Associated Press reported:
In 2004, the city agreed to pay $3 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of Amadou Diallo, who was shot by four police officers in 1999.
In 2010, the city agreed to pay $3.25 million to the estate of Sean Bell, who was killed in 2006 outside a strip club while leaving his bachelor party. Police had targeted the club for an undercover operation.
In January, the city settled with the family of teenager Ramarley Graham, who was shot by a police officer in 2012, for $3.9 million.
Garner’s family, scheduled to speak at a press conference Tuesday morning, has yet to comment on the terms of their settlement. But the Rev. Al Sharpton – a civil rights activist who has been a leading voice in the black community – has noted that the money, while deserved, is not a solution to the larger issues surrounding police relations with minorities.
“We did not march and build a movement just to get money,” he said. A Saturday rally calling for an expedited federal investigation into Garner’s death would go on as planned, the reverend said.
Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, a union for active and retired New York Police Department sergeants, criticized the settlement and called it “obscene” and “shameful.”
“Where is the justice for New York taxpayers? Where is the consistency in the civil system?” Mr. Mullins told the New York Post.
“In my view, the city has chosen to abandon its fiscal responsibility to all of its citizens and genuflect to the select few who curry favor with the city government,” he added. “Mr. Garner’s family should not be rewarded simply because he repeatedly chose to break the law and resist arrest.”
Police officers who believed Garner was selling untaxed cigarettes stopped him outside a Staten Island convenience store on July 17, 2014. One of the officers, Daniel Pantaleo, placed his arm around Garner’s neck to subdue him.
In a video taken by a witness at the scene, Garner, who had asthma, could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe!” 11 times before losing consciousness. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
A medical examiner said the chokehold, which is prohibited by the New York Police Department, contributed to Garner’s death. Officer Pantaleo denied using a chokehold, saying he used a legal takedown maneuver called a seatbelt. A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, and a federal probe is ongoing.
For city officials, the settlement is a definite step forward.
“By reaching a resolution, family and other loved ones can move forward even though we know they will never forget this tragic incident,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
“Mr. Garner’s death is a touchstone in our city’s history and in the history of the entire nation,” Mr. Stringer said in an interview with the New York Times. “Financial compensation is certainly not everything, and it can’t bring Mr. Garner back. But it is our way of creating balance and giving a family a certain closure.”
This report used material from the Associated Press.