The family of Eric Garner, who died in police custody following his arrest on charges of selling black market cigarettes on city streets, have been awarded a $5.9 million from New York City to settle the family’s wrongful-death claim in the Staten Island death last July the city comptroller and a lawyer for the family said.
The agreement, reached just days before the anniversary of Mr. Garner’s death, put to rest any potential legal battle that may have taken place even as a federal inquiry into the killing and several others at the state and local level remain open.
The settlement comes following a case that threatened to ignite street riots after two New York City police officers approached Mr. Garner on July 17, 2014 on a city sidewalk and accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes.
Garner, who was known to police for selling black market cigarettes and had arrested him for violating untaxed cigarette sales laws dozens of times, decided to resist arrest leading arresting officers to place him in a “chokehold” – a restraint technique prohibited under Police Department policy – to subdue him. The city medical examiner cited the chokehold as a cause of Mr. Garner’s death.
Despite the finding, a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who used the chokehold fueled weeks of demonstrations – protests that ceased after two police officers in Brooklyn were fatally shot by a man who suggested he was avenging Garner’s death.
Garner’s relatives, including his widow, Esaw Garner, and his mother, Gwen Carr, filed a notice of claim against the city – a precursor step to filing a lawsuit. The notice said the family was seeking $75 million in damages which is when negotiations with city comptroller’s office began.
Speaking about the settlement, City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said:
“Mr. Garner’s death is a touchstone in our city’s history and in the history of the entire nation.” “Financial compensation is certainly not everything, and it can’t bring Mr. Garner back. But it is our way of creating balance and giving a family a certain closure.”
The family had given the city a deadline of Friday, the anniversary of the death, to come to an agreement or the relatives would move forward with the lawsuit.
The agreement came after months of negotiations and is among the biggest settlements ever reached between claimants and the city. It is Mr. Stringer’s practice to settle major civil rights claims even before a lawsuit is filed. His aim is to save taxpayers the expense, and families the pain, of a long legal process.
Garner’s relatives were expected to discuss the settlement at the Harlem offices of the National Action Network, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. “This is not about people getting money,” Mr. Sharpton said on Monday. “This is about justice. We’ve got to restructure our police departments and how we deal with policing nationwide.”
There was no mention of the revenge deaths of two police officers who were killed assassination style last December while sitting in a police car on an otherwise quite Brooklyn street.