A Staten Island police commander involved in the arrest of Eric Garner, the black man who died after an NYPD officer put him in a chokehold for allegedly selling loose cigarettes in 2014, assured one of his officers that Garner’s death was “not a big deal” upon learning about his condition.
The blithe and disturbing police response came out during a review of text messages exchanged between the officers involved in Garner’s arrest on Thursday. One officer texted his superior, Lieutenant Chris Bannon, that two cops “went to collar Eric Garner and he resisted.”
“When they took him down Eric went into cardiac arrest,” the officer continued. “He’s unconscious. Might [be] DOA.”
“Not a big deal. We were effecting a lawful arrest,” Bannon texted back. He defended his response in court by saying he was trying to put the officer “at ease.”
“My reasoning behind that text message was not to be malicious, it’s to make sure the officer knew [he] was put in a bad situation,” Bannon said.
When asked by prosecutors whether he felt Garner was put in a “bad situation,” Bannon responded that he didn’t know.
Speaking to the Guardian after the hearing, Garner’s mother Gwen Carr said the text messages were “a pure smack in the face.” Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe”—which he shouted to police officers 11 times during his arrest—became a rallying cry for protesters angered by his senseless, violent death at the hands of the NYPD. With no indictments against the officers involved in Garner’s fatal arrest, the case remains an enduring example of police brutality.
The trial against Pantaleo is not a criminal one, but a police disciplinary hearing to determine whether the officer used an illegal chokehold that led to Garner’s death. Pantaleo has been on administrative duty in the five years since Garner died.