NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — NYPD procedures have been put under the microscope, and four emergency workers have now been suspended without pay, after a Staten Island man died in police custody last week.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, 43-year-old Eric Garner died last Thursday after an arrest in which he was put in a choke hold by an officer.
Officials said Sunday that two EMTs and two paramedics were placed on “modified duty” pending an investigation into Garner’s death.
The Fire Department said the emergency workers are employees of Richmond University Medical Center, the Staten Island hospital where Garner was taken by ambulance and pronounced dead.
Richmond University Medical Center said the four emergency workers have in fact been suspended without pay.
Fire Department spokesman James Long said the Fire Department took action against the hospital’s emergency responders because it oversees the city’s 911 system, a patchwork of publicly and privately operated emergency services.
The restrictions on the medical personnel came a day after the Police Department said it reassigned Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who used the apparent choke hold on Garner, and another unidentified officer while prosecutors and internal affairs detectives investigate. Choke holds are banned under department policy.
The police union is standing by Pantaleo, who has been sued twice before for arrests he made, leading to city settlements in the thousands, Kozar reported.
“This was police officers that wanted to place this person under arrest and bring them to the sidewalk, not a choke hold,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said.
“This was an active police officer. When you’re an active police officer, you’re going to get sued. He had over 300 arrests.”
Another officer has been put on desk duty, and Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan Jr. is also looking into the incident. He has not commented on his office’s investigation.
Video of the arrest Thursday shot by a bystander shows one officer wrap his arm around Garner’s neck as he is taken to the ground as he was being arrested for allegedly selling untaxed, loose cigarettes.
But Ramsey Orta, the man who shot the now-famous video, said police were not arresting him for that offense at all.
“Plain and simple, the police were harassing an innocent man,” Orta said.
Orta insisted police were busting Garner because of a long prior relationship based on previous incidents, and not because of anything he was doing last Friday.
He said Garner had actually just arrived to the scene to break up a fight between strangers when police arrived.
“He intervened and broke up the fight, and that’s when the cops pulled up, let the two guys walk away and kept their attention toward him,” Orta said.
At the time of his arrest, Garner told the officers who confronted him that he had not done anything wrong, according to the video of the arrest.
“Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today,” Garner shouts. “I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone.”
The medics were reassigned after a second video surfaced showing at least a half-dozen police officers and emergency workers circling a man who appears to be Garner lying on the sidewalk, handcuffed and unresponsive.
“It’s crazy, and I was like, ‘Perform CPR on him,’ and they was like, ‘He don’t need CPR,'” said Taisha Allen, who pulled out her phone to record the incident. “He was not breathing at the time.”
But officers said Garner was breathing.
“I think they did not do their job,” said Angela Ramos of the Tompkinsville neighborhood where the incident happened, “and that they need to be retrained.”
EMTs can then be seen in the video briefly checking Garner’s condition and putting him on a gurney to take him to the hospital.
A group of demonstrators on Monday called for the resignation of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in the wake of Garner’s death.
The group, known as “New Yorkers Against Bratton,” held a small protest Monday outside City Hall. Protesters said Bratton needs to be fired after the death of 43-year-old Eric Garner last Thursday.
“Commissioners need to pay the political price,” the group’s spokesman, Josmar Trujillo, said. “If that were to happen, if Commissioner Bratton were to resign, if Mayor de Blasio were to ask for his resignation, it would send a signal to all future commissioners that brutality is unacceptable, that their jobs are on the line.”
Preliminary autopsy reports show Garner died of a heart attack, CBS 2’s Matt Kozar reported.
Organizers of Monday’s rally said the incident is just one example of a bigger problem.
“We don’t see this case as necessarily an instance of a rogue police officer or a bad police officer, but we see it more within the context of a culture of violence that is pervasive within the NYPD,” Nick Malinowksi, who helped organize the rally, told CBS 2’s Diane Macedo.
The group is also calling for a federal investigation and an end to the “broken windows” theory of policing in New York.
“The very idea that he needed to be arrested for what they accused him of doing, I think is very troubling,” said Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College. “At most, he should have gotten a ticket.”
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the demonstration.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, is now sponsoring a bill that would require CPR training for police, Kozar reported.
“He was having problems breathing, and CPR was not conducted,” Ortiz said.
Police officials said Garner died while being transported to the hospital and that a preliminary investigation shows no damage to his windpipe.
The New York City Medical Examiner’s office said in a statement that the cause and manner of Garner’s death are pending further studies.
His family said the father of six suffered from asthma, but they said someone still needs to be held accountable.
“He didn’t die because he stopped breathing on his own,” his sister, Elissha Flagg, said Sunday. “He died because someone took his breath away.”
h3>Expert Evaluates Cops’ Actions
Garner’s death has raised a lot of questions about police arrest procedures and whether they were followed.
CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer took the video of the incident to Joseph Giacalone, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor and 21-year veteran of the NYPD, to evaluate the officers’ actions.
Giacalone said police at first followed proper procedures by first waiting for backup. Then each cop tried to grab one of Garner’s hands to cuff him from behind.
“Initially, the officer tried to take his right arm and put it behind his back, and he (Garner) pulled it forward,” Giacalone said. “One action led to another action.”
It was only after the attempt to cuff Garner failed that Pantaleo applied what appears to be a choke hold, which would violate NYPD procedure.
But Giacalone said a choke hold doesn’t violate state law.
“It’s not a crime to use a choke hold,” Giacalone said. “It is a department administrative issue. The penal law specifically says any necessary means to effect a lawful arrest.”
After the choke hold, Giacolone said police followed proper procedures again, turning Garner on his side to help him breathe.
But the professor said the NYPD needs new guidelines for dealing with large suspects like Garner.
“The department might want to look at maybe getting more Tasers out on the street, where you have somebody who is resisting like this who is a very big man, instead of trying to tackle him and take him down by force,” Giacalone said.
There’s also the question of why CPR was not administered while officers waited for an ambulance to arrive.
“The department’s going to look at who was on the scene and if anybody was certified to provide CPR,” Giacolone said. “If there’s somebody on there, they should have jumped in there and attempted.”
The NYPD’s Civilian Complaints Review Board has received more than 1,000 allegations of choke holds over the last five years.
Four hundred sixty-two cases were fully investigated. Of those, the board found evidence that choke holds were used in nine instances.
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