NYPD Official Says Illegal Chokehold Killed Eric Garner

Gwen Carr, the mother of the late Eric Garner, speaks outside Manhattan Supreme Court on Thursday after a judge refused to delay an administrative trial for Daniel Pantaleo, the Staten Island police officer who killed Garner in 2014. (Photo by JOSH RUSSELL/Courthouse News Service)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Supporting allegations that the police officer who killed Eric Garner in 2014 did so using an illegal chokehold, an NYPD official testified Tuesday that the department rolled out the approved hold Officer Daniel Pantaleo now claims to have used years after his training.

The damning testimony came in the second day of an administrative trial for Pantaleo at One Police Plaza, department headquarters.

Pantaleo, 33, never faced criminal charges for Garner’s death, which medical examiners ruled a homicide, but the disciplinary charges against him by the Civilian Complaint Review Board could cost him his badge.

Bystander-shot footage of the July 17, 2014, altercation show Garner dying in Pantaleo’s grip after repeatedly gasping the words “I can’t breathe,” but defense attorney Stuart London insisted Monday that his client had been applying a department-approved “seat-belt hold.”

Undercutting that position Tuesday, Day 2 of Pantaleo’s trial, NYPD Inspector Richard Dee testified that department training did not include the “seat-belt maneuver” until 2011, years after Pantaleo joined the academy in 2006 and underwent plainclothes training in 2008.

Dee serves as commanding officer of the NYPD Recruit Training and said the maneuvering he saw in the cellphone video of Garner’s arrest “meets the definition of a chokehold.”

Watching several clips of the arrest in court, Dee said it was initially difficult to tell whether Pantaleo was applying any pressure on Garner’s windpipes as he attempted to take the 43-year-old Garner down from behind. Once Garner was down, however, Dee said his cough and grimace confirmed that the tactic hindered his breathing, constituting a prohibited chokehold.

A three-decade department veteran, Dee explained that chokeholds, as defined by the NYPD in their use-of-force training, include tactics with “any pressure to the throat or windpipe that may hinder the intake of air.”

Dee also referred to student guides and manuals entered as evidence, testifying that NYPD recruits are taught in both their academic and gym trainings at the academy that chokeholds are barred from use.

Rather than exonerating Pantaleo, as his lawyer argued Monday, Dee said the video shows that Pantaleo lost control attempting to take down the much-larger Garner and ending up “basically taking a ride to the ground with him.”

Before grappling with Garner, Pantaleo and his partner, Officer Justin D’Amico, had been trying to arrest Garner on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes.

The video footage shown in court Tuesday stopped before Garner made his now-famous “I can’t breathe” plea to the officers outside the Staten Island ferry terminal.

Garner’s words became a rallying cry for activists who demand that police officers face greater accountability for killing unarmed civilians like Garner, who was black.

Pantaleo, who is white, has been on desk duty since Garner’s death and could face penalties ranging from the loss of vacation days to firing if he is found to have violated department rules. His trial before before Rosemarie Maldonado, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of trials, is expected to last more than two weeks.

Monday’s proceedings included testimony via video link by Ramsey Orta, the Staten Island man who recorded Garner’s arrest on his phone. Orta testified from the Groveland Correctional Facility where he is serving out a four-year sentence on drug and weapons charges.

During Dee’s testimony, he faced questioning by CCRB attorney Jonathon Fogel as well as Pantaleo’s lawyer John Tynan.

On both days so far, Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, has observed the trial from the front row.

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