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The Garner Death: Not By Chokehold?

December 10, 2018

Is it possible that Eric Garner may not have died from a chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo? At least, that’s what the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association claims.

The PBA, which represents Pantaleo, based its conclusion on city medical examiner Barbara Sampson’s autopsy report, which was provided to the union in discovery now that that NYPD will try Pantaleo in an administrative trial, and not on criminal charges.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialThe PBA also cited a 2014 article by a Dr. G. Wesley Clark, who wrote that the cause of Garner’s death was “the unfortunate synergy between his [Garner’s] disease of morbid obesity and actions most police perform countless times with only transient discomfort to the arrestee.” Clark, who is expected to be a witness for Pantaleo, also wrote: “A normal and healthy male would have been transiently distressed by the actions of the arresting officers. Mr. Garner had no margin of safety, no reserve at all…” 

Pantaleo’s PBA attorney, Stuart London, pointed out there was no external injury to the neck; that the hyoid bone, a wishbone-like bone in the neck, was intact; that there was no trauma to the trachea [the windpipe] and that when Garner was saying “I can’t breathe,” which was caught on a cell phone video, Pantaleo’s arm was not around his neck. “Maybe the media has gotten it wrong from the beginning,” he said.

Yet, even if true, the possibility that Garner didn’t die from Pantaleo’s alleged chokehold may not sway anybody more than four years after Garner’s death. The narrative of police brutality has been running fast and hard: the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as fatal police shootings of unarmed black men across the country. This includes New York City, where a year ago a police officer was found guilty of fatally shooting an unarmed teen in the bathroom of his Bronx apartment.

The city’s black politicians have been clear and loud on the Garner case: they want Pantaleo’s conviction. A month after Garner’s death, in July 2014, former governor David Paterson said, “We will not stop until someone goes to jail.”

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittSaid the normally mild-mannered Congressman, Hakeem Jeffries, a rising star in the Democratic Party, “The only way we will be satisfied is if the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner will be convicted and sent upstate.”

He and three other black city congressmen called on the feds to take the Garner case from Staten Island District Attorney, Dan Donovan, and indict Pantaleo for civil rights violations. After a S.I. grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, they got their wish. But it didn’t pan out as they had hoped.

The feds’ problem was that Pantaleo was acting in the line of duty and Garner resisted arrest. The same cell phone video that appeared to show Pantaleo using a chokehold also showed Garner, with 29 priors, saying as Pantaleo approached after local merchants complained Garner was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes outside their stores: “This ends now.”

The feds spent the next four years considering whether to indict Pantaleo on civil rights charges. They asked the NYPD to refrain from trying Pantaleo administratively until their investigation was complete, although there was nothing to prevent the NYPD from acting unilaterally, as they had in the case of police officer Frank Livoti, whose chokehold led to the death of 28-year-old Anthony Baez of the Bronx. The department tried him, found him guilty, and fired him before his federal trial began.

Instead, then NYPD Commissioner, Bill Bratton, complied with the feds, keeping Pantaleo on the payroll on modified assignment.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD Confidential Then in July the feds appeared to throw in the towel, telling the NYPD it could try Pantaleo. Meanwhile, in response to the PBA’s new chokehold claim, Sampson reiterated her earlier forensic determination: that Garner died from injuries, including neck compression. “It is false that crushing of the windpipe and fracture of the hyoid bone would necessarily be seen at autopsy as the result of a chokehold,” she said.

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