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Thursday, December 4, 2014

No Indictment in the Eric Garner Chokehold Death Case

     In 1983, following a decade of arrestee and inmate deaths in New York City caused by the use of police chokeholds, the commissioner banned this restraining technique in the city's lockups and station houses. Ten years later, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly prohibited the use of police chokeholds all together.

     On Friday, July 18, 2014, four police officers working in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island, New York, confronted 43-year-old Eric Garner as he stood on the sidewalk in front of a store. The officers accused the father of four and grandfather of six of selling so-called "loosies," individual untaxed cigarettes. Several bystanders video-recorded the exchange between the officers and the 350-pound asthmatic.

     Addressing the officers, Garner said, "Every time you see me, you're messing with me. I'm tired of it. I'm minding my own business. Please leave me alone."

     When one of the officers reached out to place the suspect into custody, Garner said, "Don't touch me." At that moment a second officer, from behind, wrapped his arm around the arrestee's neck. Garner collapsed to the pavement. The second Garner hit the ground, the other three officer piled on. With his head pressed hard against the sidewalk, Garner, at least eight times, yelled, "I can't breathe!" He then slipped into unconsciousness.

     Two paramedics and a pair of EMTs from Staten Island's Richmond University Medical Center, in response to the police call for medical assistance, rolled up to the scene. A few minutes later bystanders pleaded with the medical crew to do more for the unresponsive man than just check his vital signs. Ten minutes passed before the ambulance crew lifted Garner onto a gurney and slid him into the emergency vehicle. At the hospital, an hour after the police encounter, Garner died of cardiac arrest.

     A police supervisor placed Daniel Pantaleo, the officer seen grabbing Garner from behind, on desk duty pending an internal affairs inquiry into Garner's death. The district attorney of Staten Island announced that investigators in his office would conduct an investigation into the matter.

     The New York City Medical Examiner's Office ruled Garner's death a homicide caused by "compression of neck, chest, and positioning during physical restraint by police." (Death by homicide is not the same thing as death by criminal homicide. Death by homicide means the decedent didn't die accidentally, naturally, or by suicide.)

     Officer Pantaleo was not a stranger to such incidents. Two people, in separate cases, had sued him for excessive force in the past few years. Because Garner was black and the arresting officers were white, the fatality immediately triggered accusations of police racism.

     On July 19, 2014, the day after Mr. Garner's death, Richmond University Medical Center officials suspended the four-member ambulance crew without pay. A hospital spokesperson said an internal investigation was underway.

     Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association, told reporters that the union stood behind officer Pantaleo. "This was a police officer that wanted to place this person [Garner] under arrest and bring him to the sidewalk. This was not a chokehold."

     On December 3, 2014, a grand jury decided not to indict officer Pantaleo for Eric Garner's death. This meant there would be no criminal charges in this case. The officer could still be charged in federal court with a civil rights violation and the city can expect a wrongful death suit.

     The grand jury in this case was made up of 23 residents of Staten Island and led by a foreperson. A true bill requires that at least 13 of the panelists vote for a criminal charge. Fifteen members of this grand jury were white.

     This grand jury no bill involving a white police officer and the death of a a black subject, coming in the wake of the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, provoked condemnation from legal analysts and triggered a wave of demonstrations in New York City.

     Police officers are trained and equipped to deal with uncooperative people. Eric Garner, while not cooperative, was unarmed and committing a petty crime that could have been dealt with by a summons rather than arrest. Taking him to the ground involved acceptable law enforcement force, but the chokehold and not letting him up when he repeatedly said he couldn't breathe was, in the opinion of most legal analysts, excessive force.

   

     

2 comments:

  1. This is really sad! There was no reason to even restrain Garner. Did they ask him to sit down on the sidewalk or tell him they were gonna restrain him while they searched him? I realize that the verbal exchange is all we have to form an oppinon with. But, this sounds like a situation where everyone involved from all 3 officers to the ambulance workers should be fired. The 3 officers should be charged with this man's death.

    If the situation did not involve officers and was just 3 guys harrassing or talking to another male (who had an unknown health condition) it would be called murder. All three would be charged with the crime including those who did little to revive the victim!

    If we were tougher on cops then they would think twice before pulling the trigger. And if the feds made an example out of departments who use racial profiling we would not be in this sad sad position.

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  2. Just more evidence that it's "procedure," and not law or morality, that determine whether or not a cop acted correctly. If I'd killed this man in the same way, while holding him back from beating my sister to death, I'd face trial. I'd like to think I'd win said trial, but I'd certainly be indicted. But as long as he followed "procedure," a cop is almost immune to indictment.

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