NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A grand jury heard testimony Friday from a police officer involved in the chokehold death of an Eric Garner on Staten Island — in a development signaling that it could be close to deciding whether he should face criminal charges in the volatile case.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo spent about two hours giving the Staten Island panel his account of the videotaped death of Garner, said the officer’s attorney, Stuart London.
“We’re thankful that they listened intently to his testimony,” London said.
The grand jury began hearing evidence in late September. A spokesman for Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan declined to comment on when it is expected to vote on whether to indict the officer, but a decision is expected before the end of the year.
Pantaleo and other NYPD officers stopped Garner on the street in Tompkinsville, Staten Island. A video shot by an onlooker and widely watched on the Internet showed Garner telling the officers to leave him alone and refusing to be handcuffed.
Pantaleo responded by wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck in an apparent chokehold, which is banned under NYPD policy. The heavyset Garner, who had asthma, is heard gasping, “I can’t breathe.” He later was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The medical examiner’s office ruled Garner’s death a homicide, caused by the officer’s chokehold as well chest and neck compressions and prone positioning “during physical restraint by police.” Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors, the medical examiner said.
An expert forensic pathologist hired by Garner’s family, Dr. Michael Baden, agreed with the medical examiner’s findings, saying there was hemorrhaging on Garner’s neck indicative of neck compressions.
Police union officials and Pantaleo’s lawyer have argued that the officer used a takedown move taught by the police department, not a chokehold, and that Garner’s poor health was the main reason he died.
Garner’s family plans to sue the city, the NYPD and Pantaleo for $75 million.
The Garner case has drawn comparisons to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, where another grand jury is considering criminal charges. Both cases have sparked protests and calls for federal prosecutors to bring civil rights charges against police.
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