New York Post
July 20, 2014


Man in chokehold death had no throat damage: autopsy

By Larry Celona and Kathianne Boniello

The forbidden chokehold used by a cop to take down a Staten Island man in a deadly encounter Thursday did not damage his windpipe or neck bones, sources said.

The preliminary autopsy findings could be welcome news for Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, now named as the cop who wrapped his arm around Eric Garner’s throat while trying to ­arrest him.

“If you’re the defense counsel in this case, this is very good news, because it’s consistent with what appears to be the case — that they didn’t mean to hurt him,” said John Jay College of Criminal Justice Professor Eugene O’Donnell.

But a source close to the Medical Examiner’s investigation said coroners are also investigating whether the chokehold still contributed to Garner’s death by aggravating his pre-existing conditions of obesity, asthma and possible heart disease. He died of cardiac arrest in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

“If an obese person with co-existing medical problems can’t get good oxygenation to begin with, then a chokehold could put him over the edge,” and lead to a homicide finding, the source said.

Pantaleo has been placed on modified duty, his shield and gun taken. Saturday, cops gathered evidence at his home in the Great Kills section of Staten Island, leaving with a long, narrow box and three bags.

The eight-year NYPD veteran, along with Police Officer Justin Damico — a four-year vet now on desk duty — had been on patrol for “conditions” such as drug use, public intoxication and illegal cigarette sales at about 5 p.m. Thursday when they spotted the 6-foot-5, 350-pound Garner at his usual perch at Bay Street and Victory Boulevard in Tompkinsville.

The cops saw him sell a “loosie” to a man in a red shirt, law-enforcement sources said. Garner was known to hawk untaxed cigarettes for 50 cents apiece, and had eight arrests for the offense.
Witnesses claimed Garner had done nothing but break up a fight prior to the officers arriving.

“The guy got punched in the back, and [Garner] jumped up to break it up,” said Ramsey Orta, 22. “I know he didn’t sell a cigarette because the guy in the red shirt, who got punched, asked me for a cigarette.”

‘IF YOU’RE THE DEFENSE COUNSEL IN THIS CASE, THIS IS VERY GOOD NEWS, BECAUSE IT’S CONSISTENT WITH WHAT APPEARS TO BE THE CASE — THAT THEY DIDN’T MEAN TO HURT HIM.’

- John Jay College Professor Eugene O’Donnell

    
   

In the videotaped confrontation, Garner is heard hollering at the two cops, “Every time you see me, you try to mess with me. I’m tired of it. This ends today.”

As the cops move in, Garner protests, “Please don’t touch me.”

The plainclothed, 5-foot-10 Pantaleo then steps behind Garner, wraps his arm around his neck and pulls him to the sidewalk. As other cops join the scrum, Pantaleo is seen pushing the suspect’s head against the sidewalk as Garner repeatedly gasps, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”

NYPD protocol prohibits the use of chokeholds.

Even without damage to the throat, “the chokehold alone is pretty damning,” said civil rights lawyer Ronald Kuby, who added that it showed “criminally bad judgment.”

But Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, urged New Yorkers to “[give] our police the benefit of the doubt when a tragedy occurs in the performance of their duty.”

“The department’s modification of this police officer under these circumstances is a completely unwarranted, kneejerk reaction for political reasons and nothing more,” Lynch added.