Updated Aug. 19, 2019, 3:04p.m.
The New York police department has fired a white police officer who used a fatal chokehold during the 2014 arrest of a black man, in a case that fueled nationwide protests.
Eric Garner’s dying words, "I can't breathe," became a rallying cry for the demonstrators and sparked a national debate over race and the use of force by police, helping to ignite the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill told reporters Monday that police officer Daniel Pantaleo has been dismissed from the force over Garner’s death. He said the firing was based on a recent recommendation of a department disciplinary judge.
“None of us can take back our decisions,” O'Neill said, “especially when they lead to the death of another human being.” He called Garner's death an “irreversible tragedy” that “must have a consequence.”
Garner's death was ruled a homicide by the city's medical examiner, but a grand jury in 2014 declined to bring charges against any police officers.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Justice Department also declined to bring any criminal charges against Pantaleo, a decision that Garner's family called an "insult."
Commissioner O'Neill said he struggled with the decision to fire Pantaleo, saying the officer acted properly until the moment he applied the chokehold.
Garner, who was 43, was stopped by police for selling untaxed loose cigarettes on a New York City street.
Video shot by a bystander shows that Pantaleo appears to initially use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, who was much larger than him and resisted arrest, but ended up putting Garner in a chokehold while other uniformed officers wrestled him to the ground.
In the video, Garner could be heard saying "I can't breathe" 11 times before he lost consciousness.
The New York police department prohibits officers from using chokeholds because of the risk of suffocation.
Questions about the handling of the case have surrounded New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and spilled over into his presidential campaign for the Democratic nomination. Protesters at the recent debate in Detroit chanted at de Blasio: “Fire Pantaleo''