Police Investigators Determined Officer Choked Eric Garner

By Ashley Southall, New York Times

Internal affairs investigators who reviewed Eric Garner’s death determined that the officer who wrestled him to the ground in 2014 used a forbidden chokehold on him, a police supervisor testified on Monday during the officer’s disciplinary trial at Police Headquarters.

 
Gwen Carr, the mother of Mr. Garner, outside Police Headquarters on Monday. She left the trial weeping after prosecutors played the video of her son’s death. Credit Stephanie Keith for The New York Times

Gwen Carr, the mother of Mr. Garner, outside Police Headquarters on Monday. She left the trial weeping after prosecutors played the video of her son’s death. Credit Stephanie Keith for The New York Times

 

The revelation raised questions about why the Police Department never took independent action against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, but instead allowed him to remain on desk duty for five years as a federal investigation dragged on. The Police Department did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The testimony came on the first day of Officer Pantaleo’s long-delayed disciplinary trial. Mr. Garner died after officers held him down and handcuffed him on the pavement near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The police had stopped him because they thought he was selling untaxed cigarettes, or “loosies.”

Captured on video, his death was one of several across the country that set off protests and led to a national reckoning over how the police treat people in poor and minority neighborhoods. Mr. Garner’s last words — “I can’t breathe” — became a rallying cry for people protesting police brutality.

On Monday, the supervisor who oversaw the internal review, Deputy Inspector Charles Barton, testified that in 2015 he ordered the lead investigator to recommend disciplinary charges against Officer Pantaleo.

The department’s internal prosecution unit never filed charges. The current charges, of reckless use of a chokehold and intentional restriction of breathing, were brought by an independent police watchdog agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

The hearing centers on the question of whether Officer Pantaleo used a banned chokehold or a different takedown technique taught in the Police Academy, and whether his actions were justified.

A prosecutor said in an opening statement that a bystander’s video of the arrest shows Officer Pantaleo using lethal force that led to Mr. Garner’s cardiac arrest.

The video shows that Officer Pantaleo wrapped his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck and clasped his hands like a “vise grip,” said the prosecutor, Jonathan Fogel, of the review board. The Police Department has “explicitly, unequivocally and absolutely” banned the maneuver, and it triggered “a lethal cascade,” Mr. Fogel said.

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