NEW YORK – A sergeant has been stripped of her gun and badge and charged internally in the July 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, the first official accusation of wrongdoing in the case that helped spark a national movement on the role of race in policing.
New York Police Department Sgt. Kizzy Adonis was one of the supervising officers at the scene of Garner's death on Staten Island during an arrest on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. She was not part of the team out investigating that day but heard the radio call and was nearby and responded to the scene. Adonis is black and so was Garner.
Officials said Friday that Adonis was charged with failure to supervise, an internal disciplinary sanction. Sgt. Ed Mullins, the head of her union, called the charge ridiculous and political.
"She didn't have to go there — she chose to go there to help out and look what happens," he said, adding it was Commissioner William Bratton, not Adonis, who is to blame. "This incident stems from failed policies that ultimately led to the death of Eric Garner."
The encounter, caught on video by an onlooker, spurred protests about police treatment of black men.
Garner, an asthmatic father of six, was seen yelling, "I can't breathe!" 11 times before losing consciousness. The medical examiner found the chokehold contributed to his death. Coupled with police killings of unarmed black men elsewhere in recent months, the death became a flashpoint in a national debate about relations between police and minority communities.
No one has been charged criminally. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white and who applied the hold, remains on desk duty. A grand jury refused to indict him on criminal charges. The chokehold is banned under NYPD policy; Pantaleo has said he was using a legal takedown maneuver called the seatbelt.
No one else in the case has yet to face departmental charges, and the internal disciplinary review is on hold pending a federal inquiry, at the request of the U.S. attorney general for the Eastern District, police said.
But Adonis had been promoted to sergeant shortly before Garner's death, and the charges extend her probationary period until her internal case is completed, officials said. For officers not currently under criminal investigation, the department has 18 months to file internal charges. It wasn't clear if any other officers involved in the case would face internal charges by the deadline, which is Jan. 17.
"The NYPD, in consultation with the United States Attorney's office, served the departmental charges at this time in order to preserve the disciplinary statute of limitations and all further proceedings concerning the Garner inquiry will continue to be stayed until the conclusion of the federal investigation," the department said in a statement.
Internal charges can lead to loss of vacation days up to dismissal from the department. Garner's family settled with the city for $5.9 million.