New York Daily News

August 2, 2014


 

HOMICIDE: Medical examiner says NYPD chokehold killed Staten Island dad Eric Garner


The 43-year-old dad died July 17 after cops on Staten Island attempted to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes. 'Thank God the truth is finally out,' the man's widow said Friday after the report was unveiled.

By Barry Paddock, Rocco Parascandola, Corky Siemaszko
New York Daily News

It was a homicide — and the chokehold killed him.

Eric Garner, the Staten Island dad who complained that he couldn’t breathe as he was subdued by cops, died from compression of the neck, the medical examiner said Friday.

The autopsy also found that compressions to the chest and “prone positioning during physical restraint by police” killed Garner. The manner of death, according to the medical examiner, was homicide.

Garner’s widow told the Daily News she was relieved that the coroner finally confirmed what she suspected since her husband died on July 17.

“Thank God the truth is finally out,” Esaw Garner said. “Thank God for that.”

Staten Island prosecutors are still investigating the 43-year-old man’s death. No one has been charged.

The announcement from the medical examiner’s office was the latest development in a case that sparked national outrage after The News obtained a sickening cell phone video. It showed Officer Daniel Pantaleo using the banned chokehold on the father of six.

Police say they approached Garner because he was selling unlicensed cigarettes — better known as loosies — and that he resisted arrest.

Many fear the incident will fan racial tensions. Garner was black. Pantaleo and most of the other cops involved are white.

Mayor de Blasio, who promised during his campaign to make the NYPD more responsive to minority communities, said Friday he was “absolutely committed to ensuring that the proper reforms are enacted to ensure that this won’t happen again.”

“We all have a responsibility to work together to heal the wounds from decades of mistrust and create a culture where the police department and the communities they protect respect each other,” he said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a vocal critic of the the NYPD, just a day earlier pointedly told the mayor his biracial son Dante could be “a candidate for a chokehold.” But Sharpton held his fire after the medical examiner’s announcement.

“We’re reviewing it and we’ll be announcing tomorrow what course of action we’ll be taking after we meet tonight,” he told The News.

The Staten Island district attorney’s office said they had been in touch with the medical examiner.

“We await the issuance of the official death certificate and the autopsy report,” an office statement read. “The investigation into Mr. Garner’s death continues.”

The autopsy determined the victim’s asthma, obesity and high blood pressure were also contributing factors in his death.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the NYPD will continue cooperating with Staten Island prosecutors, who are “the lead investigative entity in this case.”

Meanwhile, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association offered condolences to Garner’s family, but also said he was partly responsible for his death.

“We believe, however, that if he had not resisted the lawful order of the police officers placing him under arrest, this tragedy would not have occurred,” PBA President Pat Lynch said in a statement.

Pantaleo, on the force eight years, was stripped of his gun and badge and placed on desk duty. Pantaleo, 29, has been accused of false arrest and violating police procedures in two previous lawsuits, court records show. A second officer was also put on desk duty after the deadly Staten Island clash.

Garner, whose rap sheet listed 31 arrests beginning when he was 16, met his end in the Tompkinsville neighborhood. The area falls within the 120th Precinct, which has seven of the city’s most sued officers.

Video clearly showed Pantaleo wrapping a beefy arm around Garner’s neck as he brought the 350-pound man down. Garner landed on his hands and knees and then onto his side. And, as four other plainclothes cops joined in the fray, Garner was then forced onto his chest and held down on the ground.

“I can't breathe!” Garner could be heard screaming. “I can’t breathe!”

But Pantaleo did not let go. He was seen forcing Garner’s face into the concrete. Four minutes into a seven-minute video clip, four EMTs arrived. But neither they — nor the eight cops standing around as Garner lay on the sidewalk — could be seen trying to help the unconscious man.

One emergency worker checked Garner’s pulse and told the apparently lifeless man that help had arrived. Then the cops and the worker lifted Garner onto a stretcher and he was driven to a Staten Island hospital.

The NYPD’s internal report prepared right after Garner died didn’t mention a chokehold and insisted he had not been in “great distress.”

But the video told a different story.

“As an individual who’s no expert in law enforcement, it looked like a chokehold to me,” de Blasio told reporters after news broke of Garner’s death.

Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, 65, told The News after his death that she was relieved there were recordings of her son’s last moments.

“I don’t want him to have died in vain,” she said. “As people see, it’s just a godsend that we have the video. Just look at the tape.”

But PBA president Patrick Lynch cautioned against reading too much into the damning video.

“Videotapes never present all of the facts in a situation,” Lynch said. “They present an isolated period of a police interaction, but never the entire scenario.”

After several people were asphyxiated while in police custody, the NYPD forbade the use of chokeholds in 1983, stating it could only be used when an officer’s life was in danger.

Former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly banned the use of chokeholds altogether in 1993.

The following year, Bronx resident Anthony Baez, 29, died after Officer Francis Livoti put him in a chokehold after a football he was throwing around with friends hit the cop’s car.

In the wake of Garner’s death, Bratton ordered that the NYPD’s 35,000 officers be retrained in the proper use of force when subduing a suspect.

Also, the four EMTs who apparently did nothing to aid Garner have been banned from responding to calls until the investigation is complete. They are not employed by the Fire Department.

With Denis Hamill, Jenna O’Donnell, Thomas Tracy and Terence Cullen

bpaddock@nydailynews.com