NYPD chokehold death ruled a homicide

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NEW YORK — The New York City medical examiner’s office Friday confirmed what demonstrators had been saying for weeks: A police officer’s chokehold on a man being arrested for selling loose cigarettes killed him. The death has been ruled a homicide.

Eric Garner, 43, died July 17 after being confronted by police on Staten Island for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally.

During the encounter, Garner raised both hands in the air and told the officers not to touch him. Seconds later, a video shows an officer behind him grab the 350-pound man in a chokehold and pull him to the sidewalk, rolling him onto his stomach.

“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Garner said repeatedly, his cries muffled into the pavement.

The cause of Garner’s death was “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police,” said Julie Bolcer, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office. The death was ruled a homicide.

Acute and chronic bronchial asthma, obesity and hypertensive cardiovascular disease were listed as contributing conditions in a controversial death that sparked anti-police demonstrations and calls for a federal investigation.

Douglas Auer, a spokesman for the Richmond County district attorney’s office, said the investigation into the death was continuing.

“We await the issuance of the official death certificate and the autopsy report,” he said in a statement.

There was no immediate reaction from Garner’s family but they were expected to speak at a Harlem rally with the the Rev. Al Sharpton on Saturday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio Friday expressed his “deepest sympathies” to Garner’s family.

“My administration will continue to work with all involved authorities, including the Richmond County District Attorney, to ensure a fair and justified outcome,” he said in a statement. “We all have a responsibility to work together to heal the wounds from decades of mistrust and create a culture where the police department and the communities they protect respect each other … I’ve said that we would make change, and we will. As Mayor, I remain absolutely committed to ensuring that the proper reforms are enacted to ensure that this won’t happen again.

The video of the incident showed the Staten Island man lying on the ground motionless after he was taken down by a group of officers. An asthmatic, Garner was later declared dead at a nearby hospital, according to CNN affiliate WCBS. Police said he suffered a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital.

“This is a terrible tragedy that occurred … A terrible tragedy that no family should have to experience,” de Blasio said after the death, calling the video of the incident “very troubling.”

Garner, a grandfather with six children, had a lengthy criminal history, including more than 30 arrests, and had been previously arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes in May, according to police.

But demonstrators in New York called the police response during his arrest excessive and criminal.

On July 19, Garner’s friends and family rallied with Sharpton in Harlem, demanding a full investigation into Garner’s death, according to WCBS.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is seen on the video choking Garner, was put on modified assignment and stripped of his badge and gun as the New York Police Department continues to investigate the incident, WCBS reported. The chokehold tactic is prohibited by the NYPD.

Two EMTs and two paramedics also were suspended without pay, according to Erika Hellstrom, vice president of development at Richmond University Medical Center.

In a statement, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch called Pantaleo’s reassignment “a completely unwarranted, kneejerk reaction for political reasons.” He said the move “effectively pre-judges this case and denies the officer the very benefit of a doubt that has long been part of the social contract that allows police officers to face the risks of this difficult and complex job.”

On Friday, the police union expressed “sympathies and prayers” for the Garner family and said it stood “firmly in support of all police officers” put in difficult circumstances.

“Police Officers don’t start their days expecting or wanting something like this to occur in the performance of their duties,” PBA president Patrick Lynch said in a statement. “The ME’s report indicates that Mr. Garner was a man with serious health problems so there will have to be a complete and thorough analysis of all the factors that played a part in this tragedy. We believe, however, that if he had not resisted the lawful order of the police officers placing him under arrest, this tragedy would not have occurred.”

Police Commissioner William Bratton ordered an extensive review of the NYPD’s training procedures after Garner death.

After a two-hour meeting with NYPD Training Commissioner Ben Tucker last week, Bratton ordered a “top to bottom review of all the training that this department provides to its personnel, specifically focusing on force, how do we train our officers for a takedown, how do we train them to use the various levels of force that they’re authorized to use.”

“I would anticipate that coming out of this effort that there will be a re-training of every member of the New York City Police Department in the weeks, months and potential years ahead,” Bratton said.


  • Mark

    “Police claimed shortly after the incident that Garner suffered a heart attack and died en route to the hospital.” I wonder what lie they’ll come up with now. This is why people started calling them pigs.

  • Morbidly obese problems

    If heart attack wasnt the cause of death, then what was it? Diabetes? Hypertension? COPD? I mean this guy was the picture of health.

  • John Moore

    Fat or not, no one should be thrown down on the ground and choked. I hope this is a lesson to all rogue cops out there.

  • Garion Gabe Hines

    I,see they’re already talking about Mr.Garner health problems. The policeman will get off with murder,they are just wasting the taxpayers money.The Jury they pick is already hung. My opinion.

  • No Hope For Change

    If you can watch the video and not see how the guy resisted arrest they you have biased cop hating blinders on. He didn’t submit to the arrest is why he was brought to the ground. How else do you control a large man not wanting to be arrested? Ask pretty please with a cherry on top. The homicide ruling is a joke and proabably due to political pressure from race baiters like Sharpton. The ME says the choke killed him but goes on to state compression of chest and positioning as well. Which is it was it the choke hold or all of the above? Seems to me all of the above means he could have in fact had a heart attack bet the ME didn’t mention that part of the autopsy. The police should get off watch the video I see no excessive use of force unless there is something going on after the camera is turned off. Overly dramatic people on here that spout off at the mouth please consider a mental health evaluation and take yours meds.

  • lookie

    If they hit him with the taser and he suffered a heart attack they would still be taking the blame for this guys on actions ! To many people pass a liberal judgement having never even been in a fist fight and surely not tried to subdue a man of his size ! The only way to control quickly is to cut off that persons air supply !

  • O wow

    You resist, you suffer consequences. The guy was a load and was gotten under control. There will be fewer Big Macs sold at Mickey D’s. They should sue also for lost business,


    It is amazing how some people will believe anything they see are hear in the news media and then pass judgement. Of course law enforcement haters always pass judgement before the facts are in. Its what they do. Just like Al Sharpton.

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