Embattled NYPD cop Daniel Pantaleo declined Wednesday to testify at his departmental trial over the fatal arrest of Eric Garner, citing a statute of limitations for federal civil rights charges that won’t expire until July.
“Clearly, my client is the target and a subject in that investigation,” defense lawyer Stuart London said in the courtroom at One Police Plaza.
“It would be reckless for me to put him on the stand.”
London noted that he hadn’t heard anything from the US Justice Department, which announced an investigation immediately after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in December 2014.
Brooklyn federal prosecutor Elizabeth Geddes, who monitored the day’s proceedings, got up and left following London’s remarks.
The feds face a five-year statute of limitations to bring charges in Garner’s July 17, 2014, death, which a city medical examiner testified last month was the result of a chokehold allegedly applied by Pantaleo that triggered Garner’s asthma and led to a heart attack.
Pantaleo denies using a chokehold — which is banned by the NYPD — and claims he applied an approved “seat-belt hold.”
London rested the defense case following testimony from a forensic pathologist who said that the “neck compression” suffered by Garner “did not kill him.”
“I think it’s heart disease that was exacerbated by his interaction with law enforcement,” said Dr. Michael Graham, chief medical examiner for the city of St. Louis and a professor at St. Louis University.
Graham also disputed Garner’s infamous shouts of “I can’t breathe!” on the cellphone video that captured his deadly arrest.
“He’s still awake. He’s conscious,” Graham said.
“He probably felt that he couldn’t breathe, but the fact of the matter is he could breathe.”
Earlier Wednesday, the defense tried to rebut evidence that Pantaleo was never taught to use a “seat-belt hold” through the testimony of a former Police Academy instructor who said cops routinely employ physical tactics against suspects without undergoing training.
During cross-examination by a Civilian Complaint Review Board prosecutor, retired Sgt. Russell Jung rejected an assertion that, “Officers should not perform a maneuver that they are not trained to do, correct?”
“There are a million maneuvers we use in the streets that we are not trained to do. We’re not trained to kick somebody in the shin.”
His testimony sparked outrage from Garner supporters who laughed derisively and made remarks that included, “Wow!” and “Oh, come on!”
NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Trials Rosemarie Maldonado banged her gavel to restore order and threatened to clear the courtroom if the disruption continued.
“It’s disconcerting that the US Attorney was here, ” London said outside after the trial. “We have nothing to hide. I’m glad she was here to hear the doctor’s testimony,”
Pantaleo’s trial is set to resume Thursday with rebuttal evidence from the prosecution and the potential for closing arguments.
Maldonado will deliver her verdict and any recommended punishment, both of which are confidential, to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, who isn’t bound to follow her findings.