A judicial inquiry into the handling of Eric Garner’s arrest began Monday with two NYPD cops answering questions under oath about their involvement in the fatal 2014 arrest.
Garner’s mom, sister and other activists in August 2019 filed suit against the city and top city officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, to hold the unusual court proceeding to force officials to testify about their alleged mishandling of the probe of Garner’s arrest.
“Petitioners have alleged that the investigations were completely insufficient and inadequate and shrouded in secrecy and did not result in appropriate accountability,” Garner family lawyer Alvin Bragg said during opening statements Monday. “And we will be exploring that throughout the proceeding.”
NYPD Lt. Commander Christopher Bannon — whose text messages to an underling saying Garner’s fatal arrest was “not a big deal” emerged at a previous departmental trial — kicked off the testimony during the virtual Manhattan Supreme Court hearing.
Bragg, who is running for Manhattan district attorney, questioned Bannon about whether he had probable cause to order a sergeant to investigate a group of people standing on a Staten Island corner who he suspected were illegally selling “loosie” cigarettes and where Garner was ultimately apprehended.
“You didn’t see any actual cigarette sales?” Bragg asked of Bannon making the command after driving by the corner of Bay Street and Victory Boulevard. “You didn’t see any money exchange hands? … You didn’t see Eric Garner?”
Bannon responded “no” to all the questions.
“Did you convey that you didn’t have probable cause for an arrest?” Bragg asked referring to Bannon’s conversation with the sergeant. Bannon again answered “no.”
It emerged during Monday’s testimony that Bannon only discovered in the last couple of weeks that NYPD watchdog group the Civilian Complaint Review Board had recommended that he be cited for failing to perform supervisory duties in connection with Garner’s arrest.
“I was apprised as of this hearing, yes,” Bannon said of the CCRB recommendation.
Bannon said similar claims against him by the Internal Affairs Bureau were deemed “unfounded.”
At a video press conference during a break, Bragg clarified that the NYPD didn’t adopt that CCRB recommendation.
Garner’s mom, Gwen Carr, said at the press conference that Bannon “set the stage for Eric’s death.”
“Everybody who was there that day was involved in Eric’s murder,” Carr said.
“Bannon is a danger to New York City residents,” Carr added. “He should not be on the force. He should be fired.”
Bannon has since been promoted from lieutenant to lieutenant commander, he testified Monday.
Officer Justin D’Amico — the partner of ex-cop Daniel Pantaleo, who placed Garner in a banned chokehold — was the second witness at the hearings. His testimony is ongoing.