This week, New York City reached a settlement with the family of Eric Garner, who tragically died during July of last year after being placed in a prohibited chokehold by police officers. The agreement was reached a few days before the anniversary of Mr. Garner’s death for $5.9 million to resolve a wrongful-death claim over his killing by the police on Staten Island.
Mr. Garner’s final words — “I can’t breathe” — repeated 11 times in video footage, became a rallying cry for demonstrators across the country who vigilantly pointed to the grave issue of policing actions in minority communities and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system last summer. This debate was only further fueled following the fatal shooting of another minority male, Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
While the city is being commended for taking action in a timely manner to provide the family with even the slightest form of relief, the current resolution of the legal claim did not provide any greater clarity into the actions of the officers that day or on the policing strategies that have come under criticism in the last year. After all, the city medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, citing the chokehold and the compression of Mr. Garner’s chest by other officers who held him down. How can we just forget this detail?
According to the New York Times, several inquiries into Mr. Garner’s death were still pending, including investigations by the United States attorney’s office, the Civilian Complaint Review Board and state health officials, who are looking into the actions of emergency medical responders in treating Mr. Garner.
The agreement with Mr. Garner’s family appears to be among the largest so far as part of a New York City strategy to settle major civil rights claims even before a lawsuit is filed. At Romanucci & Blandin, we believe this is a tremendous result – not only from a monetary viewpoint, but from a policy and fairness viewpoint as the city settled this case for full value and treated Mr. Garner’s family with the dignity they deserve, as opposed to dragging them through years of litigation.