NYPD Officer's Chokehold Led to Staten Island Man's Death, Medical Examiner Says
By PERVAIZ SHALLWANI
Updated Aug. 1, 2014 5:34 p.m. ET
A New York City man's death last month resulted in part from a chokehold applied by a police officer trying to arrest him, a medical examiner said Friday, in ruling it a homicide.
The incident has drawn local and federal prosecutors' attention, while elected officials and civil-rights leaders have pressed Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton to make changes at the New York City Police Department.
The cause of Eric Garner's death was compression of the neck, chest compression and being laid flat on the ground while officers restrained him, said Julie Bolcer, spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union that represents NYPD officers, said his organization "stands firmly in support of all police officers who are put in these difficult circumstances."
On July 17, two plainclothes officers, including Officer Daniel Pantaleo, moved to arrest Mr. Garner, 43 years old, for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk, police said. Witnesses recorded video of the confrontation, and the footage was posted on the New York Daily News website.
Mr. Pantaleo applied the chokehold when Mr. Garner refused to be handcuffed. Mr. Garner could be heard on the video saying he couldn't breathe. When Mr. Garner was taken to the ground, several other officers arrived and held him while waiting for emergency medical services to arrive.
Mr. Garner was pronounced dead about an hour later at a hospital. His family couldn't be reached to comment. Coroners found that Mr. Garner's physical ailments, including asthma, obesity and heart disease, contributed to his death. Mr. Lynch said that if Mr. Garner hadn't resisted arrest, "this tragedy would not have occurred." He called for a complete review of the death, considering Mr. Garner's "serious health problems."
The medical examiner's results have been given to the office of Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan, which covers Staten Island and will determine if any of the officers' actions were criminal. The NYPD has banned chokeholds since 1993. A spokesman for Mr. Donovan said the investigation was continuing.
Civil-rights leaders have called for Mr. Donovan to let federal prosecutors lead the investigation, saying state courts can't properly prosecute cases involving police abuse. Officials at the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which has jurisdiction over Staten Island, have said they are closely following the investigation. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in July said the Justice Department was "closely monitoring" the investigation.
Mr. Garner's family and supporters have rallied with civil-rights leaders in the city, and activist Rev. Al Sharpton has called for an overhaul of the NYPD.
Mr. Bratton recently said he would embark on a months-long retraining of every NYPD officer in the use of force. On Friday, Mr. Bratton said his department will continue to cooperate with the district attorney's office.
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