NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Police advocates fired back Tuesday against a rising tide of anger fueled by the death of Eric Garner, the man who died in custody after being placed in an apparent chokehold by police.
As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, another reporter asked Police Commissioner Bill Bratton when Officer Daniel Pantaleo, an officer involved in the incident, might be arrested, to which he responded, “I’m not anticipating that at all. Why don’t wait until the district attorney does what he’s going to do?”
Speaking out about the case on Tuesday, leaders of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association emphatically and repeatedly denied that the officers involved in Garner’s death used a chokehold, CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported.
Despite the unions’ denial, Bratton has said that what Officer Pantaleo did in the video appears to be a chokehold.
“Everybody has a right to their opinion about what they saw in that video,” Bratton said Tuesday.
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“In recent weeks, the reputations of New York City police officers have been tarnished by the words of many,” said PBA President Patrick Lynch.
Lynch also had harsh words for what he sees as a lack of respect for the law, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
“There is an attitude by the criminal element that resisting arrest is condoned and not taken seriously,” Lynch said.
Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, died last month after being placed in an apparent chokehold by two NYPD officers who were trying to arrest Garner for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
In cellphone video of the incident, an officer is seen placing his arm around Garner’s neck and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.
Garner, who weighed at least 350 pounds suffered from asthma, is heard saying repeatedly in the video, “I can’t breathe!”
The medical examiner’s office later 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.
Chokeholds are banned by the NYPD, but allowed under state law.
The police union called the medical examiner’s report “political.” Mayor Bill de Blasio quickly defended the findings, saying the office is “the gold standard in this country” for medical science.
“It was not a chokehold. He was a big man that had to be brought down to the ground to be placed under arrest by shorter police officers. Sometimes the use of force is necessary, but it’s never pretty to watch,” Lynch said.
As for Lynch’s assertion that Garner was not placed in a chokehold, de Blasio told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb: “Union leaders will say what union leaders say. … We have a job to do. We’re going to do our job. I don’t let the rhetoric of union leaders stand in the way of getting the job done.”
Garner’s death has sparked outcry in the community against the police and has incited action by groups including the NAACP and New York Civil Liberties Union, which are calling for federal authorities to take over the investigation from the Staten Island district attorney.
Lynch said Tuesday that a week before the incident, Garner was “observed illegally selling loose cigarettes by police.”
“He was warned to stop the illegal sale and was not placed under arrest, but was warned and admonished and sent on his way,” Lynch said.
He said on the day of the incident on July 17, Garner was seen selling loose cigarettes and was approached by police. He said the officers were put in an impossible situation.
“Responding officers have no prior knowledge of existing, serious medical problems and never do on radio runs like this,” Lynch said. “He [Garner] was given several opportunities to submit peacefully to the arrest, but chose to resist.”
He said after Garner had been placed under arrest and told the officers he couldn’t breath, the officers turned him on his side and called for an ambulance for medical assistance.
Lynch said when emergency responders arrived, Garner was breathing on his own and did not require CPR. Garner died while being taken to the hospital.
Both Lynch and Sergeants Benevolent Association President Edward D. Mullins condemned the medical examiner’s findings on Garner’s death as “flawed” and “political.”
“This was not a chokehold. We will get medical examiners to go over this autopsy when it is finally released,” Lynch said. “I’ve never seen a document that was more political than that press release released by the ME’s office.”
“A cause of death of homicide is purely the way a person died,” Mullins said. “It’s not a criminal charge. It places no blame on anyone.”
Police union leaders also said rank-and-file officers do not feel like they have the backing of de Blasio or the citizens of New York, Brown reported.
“Police officers do not feel that they’re getting the support that they need for the job that they do,” Lynch told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.
Union leaders directed the 35,000 member police force to follow the NYPD’s patrol guide to the letter.
“We want you to do your job. We want you to follow the rule book the way it’s written, and if there’s a delay in getting to the next place, so be it,” Mullins said.
Lynch also lashed out at Rev. Al Sharpton for getting involved in the debate.
“It is outrageously insulting to all police officers to say that we go out on our streets to choke people of color, as Al Sharpton stated while seated at the table right next to our mayor at City Hall,” he said. “It is a person’s behavior that leads to interactions with the police, not who they are, not what they look like or how much money is in their pocket.”
Lynch was referring to a roundtable meeting at City Hall last week between Sharpton, de Blasio, Bratton and others on police-community relations.
“Al Sharpton’s words do nothing to build a bond between New York City police officers and the communities that we serve and protect each and every day,” Lynch said.
The situation is such that some officers have apparently circulated a mock ID card that shows Sharpton’s face beneath the words ‘police commissioner.’
“I do not believe he has credibility,” Sharpton said, “He shouldn’t have the right to sit at the lead table at city hall and stir up the streets where it becomes dangerous for police officers.”
Bratton said that Lynch was entitled to his opinion, CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported.
“In terms of any comments he might have made about anybody like Mr. Sharpton or anybody else, he’s entitled to his opinions, and certainly in his position as head of the union, he’s entitled to that opinion of whatever was presented,” Bratton said.
De Blasio has made no secret of his close ties to Sharpton.
“He’s someone who is a personal friend and someone I respect the advice of,” the mayor said.
CBS 2 spoke with former mayor Michael Bloomberg for his thoughts on the rash of complaints against police.
“We found a balance that I thought was right for the last 12 years, and then after that you’ve got to talk to the next administration,” Bloomberg said.
Sharpton later issued a statement responding to Lynch’s comments.
“It is time to have a mature conversation about policing rather than immature name calling and childish attempts to scapegoat,” he said in the statement. “Within the realm of criminal justice, my credibility and that of the National Action Network is established, even the President of the United States and the United States Attorney General spoke at our convention here in New York in April and both have participated in several prior conventions. So my visit to City Hall is not exactly the highlight of my year or necessary to accreditate our views.”
Sharpton said he and others have called for a “fair and impartial federal investigation” into Garner’s death to “provide the public and the Garner family with results.”
“If other parties feel that the evidence will support their view of events then they should support us in a fair, independent investigation and allow the facts to come out,” he said.
The officer who placed Garner in the apparent chokehold was stripped of his gun and badge pending the investigation. Another officer was placed on desk duty. Two paramedics and two emergency medical technicians were suspended without pay.
Bratton has promised retraining of officers from top to bottom in the department.
As 1010 WINS’ Holli Haerr reported, the new head of the Civilian Complaint Review Board said that a study on police chokeholds should be done by the end of August or the first week of September.
“It’s very intensely being pursued,” Richard Emery said.
Out of 1,128 complaints of chokeholds 10 were declared substantiated in the past 5 years, however that number could claim as some cases are not categorized as chokeholds right away, Emery explained.
Emery also suggested ways to improve the review board including prioritizing cases and tracking complaints the way police departments track crime statistics.
Some in the audience said that the board has been ineffective in the past and were uncertain about its future.
Over the weekend, police arrested the man who shot the video, 22-year-old Ramsey Orta, after allegedly catching him with an illegal handgun.
Orta’s wife, Chrissie Ortiz, said police have been following him since the video surfaced.
“Its ridiculous,” she said. “It’s obvious he was set up, who cannot see that?”
Orta pleaded not guilty two counts of criminal possession of a weapon and was held on $75,000 cash bail.
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