The attorney for a New York officer accused of using excessive force that led to the death of Eric Garner claimed at a hearing Thursday that the NYPD’s top doctor determined the plainclothes cop didn’t use a chokehold to take down the Staten Island man.
According to attorney Stu London, the department’s chief surgeon ruled that Officer Daniel Pantaleo never used the department-banned maneuver during his fatal encounter with Garner in 2014.
Garner, who was asthmatic and suffered from several other health issues, died after police arrested him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. His final words “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
At Thursday’s hearing, Pantaleo’s defense attorney said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill had asked Chief Surgeon Eli Kleinman to review Garner’s case file, which included video of the harrowing July 2014 incident, according to the New York Daily News. London stated that after Kleinman watched the footage, along with a second video that was never publicly released, and reviewed Garner’s autopsy, he determined that a chokehold never occurred.
This is despite video evidence showing Pantaleo placing his arm around the 43-year-old’s neck in an attempt to bring him to the ground. Garner, a father of six, is heard making repeated complaints that he couldn’t breathe.
Still, London said Kleinman ruled that there were no injuries associated with a chokehold, including to Garner’s trachea. In a report dated Dec. 10, 2014, London said the doctor also noted Garner’s poor health — his obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma — were factors in his death.
“It basically exonerates Officer Pantaleo,” London said of Kleinman’s report. “It indicates that he did not use a chokehold. It indicates that the prior compromised cardiovascular system of [Garner] really is what lead to his demise. And it couldn’t be more positive for Officer Pantaleo.”
“I think it’s definitely important,” he added, “because if the Police Department thought his opinion would be not only informative but material and relevant, certainly this tribunal should feel the same way.”
However, Kleinman’s determination contradicts an autopsy performed by the city’s medical examiner, which noted Garner’s health but concluded that the maneuver — one not allowed by department guidelines — was used. An independent autopsy ordered by Garner’s family reached the same conclusion.
Pantaleo is now facing NYPD administrative charges of reckless use of force and strangulation in Garner’s death. If convicted, he could face punishment ranging from the loss of vacation days to being fired from the department altogether.
As reported by the New York Post, London filed a motion to dismiss the charges against his client and block the Civilian Complaint Review Board from prosecuting the case. However, the motion was blocked by NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, who will hear Pantaelo’s department trial next month.
“London trying to toss the case out and dismiss the CCRB was a disgrace,” said Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, after Thursday’s hearing. “That was an insult.”
In 2014, Staten Island Grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in Garner’s death. The officer isn’t facing an criminal charges, however, the U.S. Justice Department has until July 17 to decide whether it will bring civil rights case against him.
Pantaleo’s disciplinary trial is scheduled for May 13.
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