NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The mother of a New York man who was placed in a chokehold while in police custody says her first words on hearing his death had been ruled a homicide were “Thank you, Jesus.”
Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said Saturday she was grateful for the medical examiner’s report saying Garner’s death was caused by a banned police maneuver.
“When I heard the coroner’s report, I tell you. I was downtown Brooklyn and I was in a store, and when I got the telephone call I guess people thought I was crazy. I just start saying ‘Thank you Jesus,'” Carr said.
Carr and other relatives joined the Rev. Al Sharpton in Harlem.
“That in and of it self is probable cause for an arrest,” Sharpton said Saturday, talking about the medical examiner’s ruling on Garner’s cause of death.
Sharpton announced an Aug. 23 march across the Verrazano Bridge between the boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island to demand justice for Garner as well as to call for police reform.
Garner died July 17 on Staten Island.
Sharpton says the Staten Island district attorney should now move toward an arrest.
New Yorkers enraged by Garner’s death in police custody see the medical examiner’s ruling that blames a prohibited chokehold as a clear indication the officers involved should face criminal charges.
“They killed somebody,” neighbor Charlene Thomas said after the city’s medical examiner deemed Eric Garner’s death a homicide. “Why? Because they’re cops, they gotta get away with this?”
Garner was killed by neck compressions from the chokehold and “the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police,” city medical examiner spokeswoman Julie Bolcer said Friday.
Ramsey Orta, a friend of Garner’s who videotaped his struggle with police, said the medical examiner’s ruling wasn’t surprising.
“I knew that was the cause because I saw it,” he said. “Now somebody should get charged.”
Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors in the death of the 43-year-old Garner, a 6-foot-3, 350-pound father of six, she said.
His videotaped arrest and final pleas of “I can’t breathe!” sparked outrage and led to the overhaul of use-of-force training for the nation’s largest police department.
The confrontation between the white police officer who used the chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo, and Garner, who is black, prompted calls by the Rev. Al Sharpton for a federal civil rights investigation.
“The district attorney needs to either say I’m going to move forward and arrest or I’m going to defer it to the federal government,” Sharpton said on Saturday.
Garner’s family joined Sharpton on Saturday to address the medical examiner’s ruling, 1010 WINS reported.
Several of Garner’s six children also were present at the rally and stood alongside Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported.
During a brief address, Garner’s widow said that she has been trying to stay strong, and that she wants prosecutors to get justice for her husband.
“I met with the prosecutors and I felt like I did the right thing by doing that, and I just want them to do the right thing and give me justice for my husband,” Esaw Garner said. “I want to thank God above for giving us justice for my husband, so that we can move forward and get this cop done with.”
The finding increases the likelihood that the case will be presented to a grand jury to determine whether Pantaleo or any other officers involved in the confrontation will face criminal charges.
Pantaleo’s attorney, Stuart London, declined to comment.
Garner’s wife told the Daily News, “Thank God the truth is finally out.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio extended his sympathies to Garner’s family in a statement and pledged to continue repairing the relationship between minority communities and the New York Police Department.
“I’ve said that we would make change, and we will,” he said.
Chokeholds are prohibited by the NYPD, but partial video of the July 17 confrontation shows an officer placing a chokehold on Garner, who was being arrested on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes. Garner then apparently loses consciousness.
A spokesman for Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said prosecutors were still investigating the death and awaited a full autopsy report and death certificate from the medical examiner. Donovan will have to determine whether to empanel a grand jury and charge officers in Garner’s death.
Federal officials are monitoring the investigation, a Department of Justice spokeswoman said, adding that the department has not begun its own inquiry.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said officials were aware of the medical examiner’s findings and the department is cooperating with prosecutors. He has said the NYPD’s use-of-force training is lacking and has pledged to retrain all 35,000 officers.
Pantaleo was stripped of his gun and badge pending the investigation, and another officer was placed on desk duty. Two paramedics and two emergency medical technicians were suspended without pay.
Tommy Rice, another man who had filed a civil lawsuit against Pantaleo, was also at the rally, Burrell reported.
Rice spoke through his attorney, Jason Leventhal, who said Pantaleo allegedly strip-searched Rice and his friends naked in the daylight after one was found with drugs.
“[Pantaleo] decided it was appropriate to strip search all of them in public, sexually assaulting Mr. Rice and Collins,” Leventhal said Saturday.
The police union said Pantaleo denies the claims; the city settled the suit for $30,000, Burrell reported.
The president of the powerful Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, expressed his sympathies to Garner’s family but noted Garner “was a man with serious health problems.”
“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,” he said.
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