Cops testifying Tuesday in Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s departmental trial for using a banned chokehold that led to the death of Eric Garner said they believed the Staten Island man had faked being in distress while he lay on the sidewalk dying.
Officer William Meems, who said he was the one who determined Garner still had a pulse after he was handcuffed, agreed when Suzanne O’Hare, the lead prosecutor for the Civilian Complaint Review Board trying Pantaleo, asked if he thought it was possible Garner was “feigning consciousness” when he collapsed and was struggling to breathe.
“At one point, yes, they tried to stand him up. I never observed his eyes roll in his head," Meems said. "Yes, I believe it was a possibility he was feigning unconsciousness.”
In later testimony, Officer Justin D’Amico answered with a simple “yes” when O’Hare asked if he suspected Garner was “playing possum."
D’Amico also claimed that Pantaleo merely had his arm around Garner’s body, not his neck — an assertion that flies in the face of the video of the July 17, 2014 incident that showed Pantaleo taking the 395-pound man to the ground while trying to arrest him for selling illegal loose cigarettes.
“Oh, come on,” Eric Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, sitting in a motorized wheelchair, said loud enough to be heard by everyone in the packed courtroom at One Police Plaza.
At that point, one of Pantaleo’s lawyers moved for her to be removed from the trial room — a request shot down by NYPD Judge Rosemarie Maldonado.
Pantaleo is standing trial for attempted reckless assault and strangulation for using a chokehold maneuver on Garner that triggered an ashmatic attack as he tried to avoid arrest.
Garner’s pained gasps for air — he yelled “I can’t breathe” 11 times — were captured on the viral video and helped fuel the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement. The city Medical Examiner said Garner died of a chokehold and chest compressions and that his obesity and poor health were contributing factors.
D’Amico also caused a stir when he said that after Garner died he processed arrest paperwork charging him with a tax law felony that applies to those in possession at least 10,000 cigarettes, 22,000 cigars or more than 400 pounds of tobacco.
Garner was carrying four sealed packs of untaxed Newports, plus a fifth pack that had been opened and had 15 cigarettes in it.
Ultimately, misdemeanor charges were filed against Garner — apparently with no one ever voiding the arrest by D’Amico, he testified.
Garner’s mother, Gwenn Carr, was enraged.
“Is there a worse word than despicable?" Carr said outside One Police Plaza afterwards.
“How do you arrest a dead man?”
D’Amico’s testimony capped the fifth day in Pantaleo’s trial, which is now on hold until June 5 because a St. Louis pathologist who will testify the cop did not use a banned chokehold is not available until then.
The supporters who have attended the trial with Carr called it a delay tactic — it’s been nearly five years since activists called for Mayor de Blasio to have Police Commissioner James O’Neill move to fire Pantaleo.
“No matter what comes out of this hearing,” said the Rev. Calvin Butts, pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, “justice has been denied because it has been delayed.”