NYPD chokehold death ruled a homicide

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NYC Chokehold Death Ruled Homicide By Medical Examiner

By JAKE PEARSON

NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York City medical examiner ruled Friday that a police officer's chokehold caused the death of a man whose videotaped arrest and final pleas of "I can't breathe!" sparked outrage and led to the announcement of a complete overhaul of use-of-force training for the nation's largest police force.

Eric Garner, 43, a black man whose confrontation with a white police officer has prompted calls by the Rev. Al Sharpton for federal prosecution, was killed by neck compressions from the chokehold as well as "the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police," said medical examiner spokeswoman Julie Bolcer.

Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors in the death of Garner, a 6-foot-3, 350-pound father of six, she said.

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NYPD chokehold death ruled a homicide
Esaw Garner, center, wife of Eric Garner, breaks down in the arms of Rev. Herbert Daughtry and Rev. Al Sharpton, right, during a rally at the National Action Network headquarters for Eric Garner, Saturday, July 19, 2014, in New York. Garner, 43, died Thursday, during an arrest in Staten Island, when a plain-clothes police officer placed him in what appeared be a chokehold while several others brought him to the ground and struggled to place him in handcuffs. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 22: Richard Watkins (5) attends a vigil for Eric Garner near where he died after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island last Thursday on July 22, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. The funeral for Garner is planned for Wednesday evening in Brooklyn. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 22: Johanna Fuentes (10) draws a message for Eric Garner near where he died after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island last Thursday on July 22, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. The funeral for Garner is planned for Wednesday evening in Brooklyn. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A memorial for Eric Garner rests on the pavement near the site of his death, Saturday, July 19, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. The wife of a man who died after a police officer used an apparent chokehold to bring him to the ground during an arrest burst into tears Saturday at a Harlem rally in his honor. Eric was confronted by police trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk, authorities said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Mourners pay their respects at the funeral service for Eric Garner held at Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Julia Xanthos-POOL/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 19: People participate in a demonstration against the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island on Thursday on July 19, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a news conference yesterday that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 19: People participate in a prayer during a demonstration against the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island on Thursday on July 19, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a news conference yesterday that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A member of the congregation holds a young child as Rev. Al Sharpton addresses the congregation at Manhattan's Riverside Church in New York, Sunday, July 20, 2014. Sharpton demanded justice in the apparent police chokehold death of Eric Garner, who died three days ago in Staten Island. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Ellisha Flagg, left, sister of Eric Garner, cries during a service at the Mount Sinai Center for Community Enrichment for Eric Garner, Saturday, July 19, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. The wife of Garner who died after a police officer used an apparent chokehold to bring him to the ground during an arrest burst into tears Saturday at a Harlem rally in his honor. Garner, who was black, was confronted by police trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk, authorities said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Members of the congregation applaud during a guest appearance by The Rev. Al Sharpton at Riverside Church in New York, Sunday, July 20, 2014. Sharpton talked about the apparent police chokehold death of Eric Garner, who died three days ago in Staten Island, demanding justice for Garner's death. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 18: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio exits a news conference after addressing the recent death of a man in police custody on July 18, 2014 in New York City. The mayor has promised a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island yesterday. A 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a conveinence store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Rev. Al Sharpton makes a point during Sunday morning service Sunday, July 20, 2014, at Manhattan's Riverside Church in New York. Sharpton addressed the congregation about the apparent police chokehold death of Eric Garner, who died three days ago in Staten Island, demanding justice for Garner's death. Sharpton also said that citizens who kill police officers should be held accountable. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Rev. Al Sharpton, front left, and members of Eric Garners family march towards the site of his death following a service held in his name at the Mount Sinai Center for Community Enrichment, Saturday, July 19, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. The wife of a man who died after a police officer used an apparent chokehold to bring him to the ground during an arrest burst into tears Saturday at a Harlem rally in his honor. Eric was confronted by police trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk, authorities said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 18: New York Police Commissioner William Bratton prepares to speak to the media at a news conference with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to address the recent death of a man in police custody on July 18, 2014 in New York City. The mayor has promised a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island yesterday. A 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a conveinence store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The Rev. James Forbes, left, senior minister emeritus of Riverside Church, greets activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, during the Sunday morning service Sunday, July 20, 2014, at Riverside Church in New York. Sharpton spoke about the apparent police chokehold death of Eric Garner, who died three days ago in Staten Island, demanding justice for Garner's death. Sharpton also said that citizens who kill police officers should be held accountable. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Rev. Al Sharpton, left, and Rev. James Alexander Forbes Jr., Senior Minister Emeritus walk accompany each other at the conclusion of a worship service at Riverside Church in New York, Sunday, July 20, 2014. Sharpton was the guest preacher at Sunday morning services, during which he spoke to the congregation about the apparent police chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island three days ago. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Reverend Al Sharpton addresses the crowd during the funeral service for Eric Garner held at Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Julia Xanthos-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: A woman rests her head on her arm during the funeral service for Eric Garner held at Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Julia Xanthos-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Esaw Garner receives a hug during a funeral service for her husband Eric Garner held at Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by James Keivom-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: A child holds up a sign outside of the Bethel Baptist Church before the funeral for Eric Garner on July 23, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes on July 17th. Garner's death has set off a wave of protests in the city and is being viewed as a test for de Blasio and his more liberal approach to policing New York's streets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Rev. Al Sharpton addresses the congregation during the Sunday morning service Sunday, July 20, 2014, at Manhattan's Riverside Church in New York. Sharpton demanded justice for the apparent police chokehold death of Eric Garner, who died three days ago in Staten Island. Sharpton also said that citizens who kill police officers should be held accountable. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 22: A growing memorial is viewed for Eric Garner near where he died after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island last Thursday on July 22, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. The funeral for Garner is planned for Wednesday evening in Brooklyn. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 19: People participate in a prayer during a demonstration against the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island on Thursday on July 19, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a news conference yesterday that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Rev. Al Sharpton makes a point during the Sunday morning service Sunday, July 20, 2014, at Manhattan's Riverside Church in New York. Sharpton addressed the congregation about the apparent police chokehold death of Eric Garner, who died three days ago in Staten Island, demanding justice for Garner's death. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Emerald Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, mourns at the site of her father's death on a march following a service held in his name at the Mount Sinai Center for Community Enrichment, Saturday, July 19, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. The wife of a man who died after a police officer used an apparent chokehold to bring him to the ground during an arrest burst into tears Saturday at a Harlem rally in his honor. Eric was confronted by police trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk, authorities said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 19: People participate in a demonstration against the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island on Thursday on July 19, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a news conference yesterday that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Mourners gather during a funeral service for Eric Garner at Bethel Baptist Church in the Brooklyn borough of New York on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Garner died in police custody after an officer placed him in an apparent chokehold. (AP Photo/New York Daily News, James Keivom, Pool)
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The finding increases the likelihood that the case will be presented to a grand jury to determine whether Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who placed Garner in the chokehold, or any other officers involved in the confrontation will face criminal charges. Pantaleo's attorney, Stuart London, declined to comment Friday.

Garner's wife, Esaw, 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 NYPD.

"I've said that we would make change, and we will," he said.

Partial video of the July 17 confrontation shows an officer placing a chokehold on Garner, who was being arrested for selling untaxed, loose cigarettes. He then apparently loses consciousness.

Chokeholds are prohibited by the New York Police Department.

Prosecutors on Staten Island, the borough where the confrontation occurred, are investigating. A spokesman for Daniel Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney, 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 the death of Garner.

Federal officials are monitoring the progress of the New York investigation, Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said, adding that the department has not begun its own inquiry into the death.

In a statement, police Commissioner Bill Bratton said officials were aware of the medical examiner's findings and said the department is cooperating with prosecutors. He has said the NYPD's use-of-force training is lacking, pledged to retrain all 35,000 officers and dispatched a team to Los Angeles to develop a state-of-the-art program.

Pantaleo was stripped of his gun and badge pending the investigation, and another was placed on desk duty. Two paramedics and two EMTs were suspended without pay.

Patrick Lynch, president of the powerful Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, expressed his sympathies to Garner's family in a statement but noted that 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.

Garner's family will join Sharpton on Saturday to address the medical examiner's ruling, a spokeswoman said.

Ramsey Orta, 22, a friend of Garner's who videotaped his struggle with police, said in an interview that 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."

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington and Jonathan Lemire contributed.

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