The New York Police Department on Monday said it will go ahead with disciplinary proceedings against the officer seen holding Eric Garner in a chokehold if the US Department of Justice doesn't announce by the end of August whether it will press federal charges.
Tuesday will mark four years since Garner died after police attempted to arrest the 43-year-old father of six for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally in Staten Island.
Video of the incident shows officer Daniel Pantaleo tackling Garner from behind and taking him to the ground using a department-banned chokehold. Pantaleo has remained on NYPD's payroll since the 2014 incident.
In a Monday letter to the DOJ, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Lawrence Byrne wrote that the police department delayed starting the disciplinary process at the request of the DOJ so it would not impact the DOJ investigation.
"However, based on our most recent conversations, it has become clear that a definite date by which time a final decision by the US DOJ will be rendered in this matter cannot be predicted," Byrne wrote.
Byrne added that due to the "extraordinary passage of time," any further delay in starting the internal proceedings "can no longer be justified."
If the DOJ announces a decision before August 31, the NYPD "will continue to hold off on our disciplinary proceedings until the final resolution of those criminal charges," the letter says.
If no decision is announced by that date, the NYPD "will move ahead" on or shortly after September 1, the letter says.
The "internal administrative disciplinary proceedings" would determine if Pantaleo would face administrative discipline within the police department. Those proceedings would not determine criminal charges against the officer.
The NYPD says it would also launch disciplinary proceedings against Pantaleo's supervisor, Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, who is still active duty with the NYPD.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said: "As officials at the Department of Justice informed Mr. Byrne this spring, the New York Police Department may move forward with its disciplinary proceedings. Mr. Byrne's letter does not have any bearing on the decision-making timeline at the Justice Department, and the Department cannot comment further at this time."
An NYPD official disputed the Justice Department statement, saying the city was not informed by the Justice Department that it could go ahead with proceedings this spring.
Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents Pantaleo, said it agrees the DOJ should move to close the officer's case "and put an end to what has been a highly irregular fishing expedition by those seeking an indictment at all cost."
"However, that should not trigger a race by the NYPD to reach a predetermined outcome in its own disciplinary processes," Lynch said.
Lynch said Pantaleo "is entitled to due process and an impartial consideration of the facts. If that is allowed to occur, we are confident that he will be vindicated and will finally be able to move forward."
A representative from Adonis' union, the Sergeants Benevolent Association, could not be reached.
'They all were misbehaving on that day'
A grand jury in New York declined to indict Pantaleo, a Staten Island officer who is white. Garner was black.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board, known as CCRB, the independent entity that would oversee the case against officers in administrative proceedings, recommended disciplinary action against Pantaleo in 2017 for using a chokehold.
"The CCRB's Administrative Prosecution Unit stands ready to prosecute Officer Pantaleo as it does in cases in which the board substantiates misconduct against a member of the NYPD and recommends charges and specifications," CCRB Chairman Fred Davie said in a statement.
"It seems the height of hypocrisy that the DOJ is going to reopen the case of Emmett Till that's 60 years old and will not move forward on a case that's four years old," the Rev. Al Sharpton said Monday while standing with Garner's mother, Gwen Carr.
In May, Carr made a public plea to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to hold Pantaleo accountable.
The mayor, in an appearance Monday evening on CNN affiliate NY1, said the NYPD is doing "exactly the right thing here."
"I think anyone who's frustrated with the aftermath of the death of Eric Garner, I understand that 100%," he said on the program, "Inside City Hall." "This has not been the way things are supposed to be because of the reality of the Justice Department."
Earlier, Carr directed her comments again to the mayor on Monday: "Please move forward on this and fire those officers -- all of them, not just Pantaleo, we want them all fired. They all were misbehaving on that day."