NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A grand jury has begun deciding whether there should be criminal charges in the case of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died in police custody.
The proceedings come five weeks after the 43-year-old asthmatic father of six died after being placed in an apparent chokehold by police.
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. He had been stopped by police for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
Garner is heard saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!” He died a short time later.
The New York City medical examiner’s office ruled Garner’s death a homicide, caused by the officer’s apparent chokehold as well as chest and neck compressions and prone positioning “during physical restraint by police.”
Last week, an independent forensic investigator hired by the Garner family agreed with the medical examiner’s findings.
“Compression of the neck that prevents breathing, for example, trumps everything else,” forensic pathologist Michael Baden said.
Baden is also the forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on Michael Brown, the Missouri teen who was shot by police.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Garner into the apparent chokehold, has been stripped of his badge and gun since the incident. Another officer was also put on modified duty.
In addition, two emergency medical technicians have been suspended for allegedly not providing CPR to Garner in a timely manner.
Pantaleo’s lawyer said he expects it will take at least a month for the grand jury to reach a decision. He said his client denies any wronging.
While the family says the findings confirm Garner’s death was caused by an apparent police chokehold, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch says otherwise, CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported.
“The type of compression and damage is consistent with life-saving techniques EMS or emergency room technicians would do in a situation like this,” he said. “It’s consistent with that, not consistent with a chokehold.”
Lynch also disputes the police officer ever put Garner in a chokehold.
“One arm of the police officer under the armpit of the individual they’re taking down and the other arm over the shoulder,” Lynch told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “That’s exactly what you see and it matches up to our training videos for a takedown maneuver.”
Friends of the Garner family, however, disputed that claim.
“Any decent person who sees that videotape — and everybody has seen the videotape — it speaks for itself,” Gary Phaneuf said.
“The evidence is right there on the video,” Sylvia Martinez said. “The man was dead on the floor before they put him on the stretcher.”
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has maintained that neither the medical examiner’s findings nor the video of the incident necessarily imply criminal wrongdoing.
“Everybody has a right to their opinion about what they saw in that video,” he said. “We’ll let the Staten Island district attorney sort it out.”
Garner’s family has been calling for a federal investigation.
“We have been calling for the prompt arrest of Officer Pantaleo,” Phaneuf said. “We want those who have participated in the homicide of Garner brought to justice.”
Lynch said he’s not sure if Pantaleo will testify for the grand jury.
“What we hope for is that they present just the evidence impassionately, not based on the emotion of the street,” Lynch told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman.
The PBA president Monday also slammed a report on NYPD chokehold complaints by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which was leaked to the New York Post.
The report said that only 10 cases out of 1,100 complaints were substantiated over the past 5 1/2 years. The worst discipline dished out was the loss of 10 vacation days, according to the report which is set to be released this week.
Lynch said many times, the complaints are allegations from criminals and believes there would be a drop in complaints if sworn testimony with penalty of perjury were part of the process.
“They know this is a way to stall a police officer’s career,” he told 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa.
Detectives Union Chief Mike Palladino said something is wrong when civilians and non-law enforcement professionals begin dictating police policy.
“It takes a real police professional to recognize what’s going on in the street and to know what’s going on in the street and what action to take,” he said.
The CCRB calls for better training, discipline and tracking of problem cops.
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