NYPD chokehold death ruled a homicide

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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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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