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Updated: May 15, 2019, 10:20 PM

Chokehold triggered Eric Garner's fatal asthma attack, medical examiner says

NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo could be fired if found guilty in a departmental trial of using the banned hold to take down the Staten Island man in the infamous altercation.

By Anthony M. DeStefano

A “lethal cascade,” starting with a chokehold and chest compression, set in motion medical events that led to the death of Eric Garner after NYPD officers forcibly arrested the Staten Island man in July 2014, a city medical examiner said Wednesday.

Testifying at the NYPD departmental trial of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, Dr. Floriana Persechino, a senior medical examiner for the city, said his use of the chokehold during the arrest triggered an asthma attack that eventually killed Garner.

“With the asthma attack, [Garner] was no longer able to breathe,” Persechino said.

Pantaleo, among several officers involved in the July 17, 2014, arrest on Staten Island of Garner, 43, on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes, faces administrative charges of reckless assault in the third degree and intentional strangulation. He is being tried in the NYPD headquarters trial room by attorneys with the Civilian Complaint Review Board before department law judge Rosemarie Maldonado.

If Pantaleo is found guilty, Police Commissioner James O’Neill could fire him, or levy a lesser penalty.

Cellphone video captured officers struggling to subdue the 395-pound Garner before forcing him to the ground. As Pantaleo and other officers held Garner down, he uttered the words nearly a dozen times that would become a rallying cry for activists nationwide protesting police abuse: “I can’t breathe!”

A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, 33, in late 2014 for Garner’s death. The officer is on modified assignment and was in the courtroom Wednesday.

During Persechino’s testimony, Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, and a number of friends left the courtroom as review board attorney Suzanne O'Hare asked the medical examiner about autopsy photographs.