New York, NY – The New York Police Department’s (NYPD) chief surgeon determined that Officer Daniel Pantaleo did not use a choke hold on Eric Garner in the controversial arrest that led to Garner’s death.
NYPD Chief Surgeon Eli Kleinman, a specialist in hematology, was asked by Internal Affairs to review the Garner case file and render an opinion, the New York Daily News reported.
The results of his report, which was submitted on Dec. 10, 2014, were released during a hearing on Thursday, a month ahead of Officer Pantaleo’s administrative trial on excessive force charges.
Kleinman’s report concluded that there were no injuries to Garner’s neck or trachea consistent with the application of a choke hold, the New York Daily News reported.
Garner was arrested by New York Police Department (NYPD) officers on July 17, 2014, after police stopped him for selling individual loose cigarettes on a city sidewalk.
He resisted arrested, and fought with officers who struggled to take the 350-pound man into custody.
In the process of subduing Garner, video taken by witnesses showed that NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo had his arm around Garner’s neck, and pressed his face against the sidewalk.
Garner repeatedly told officers “I can’t breathe,” a phrase that became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter in the months that followed.
Officer Pantaleo later said he tried to use a “seatbelt maneuver” on Garner, and did not mean to put the much larger man into a choke hold.
Garner lost consciousness on the sidewalk, and died in the hospital an hour later from a medical emergency.
Eric Garner’s autopsy report, which was released in December of 2018, showed no damage to any area of Garner’s neck, although it was determined that he died of a medical emergency induced by officers who were arresting him. The medical examiner declared it was a homicide.
Kleinman’s report found that Garner’s poor health – obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and asthma – contributed to his death, the New York Daily News reported.
“It basically exonerates Officer Pantaleo,” Stu London, the officer’s attorney said after the hearing. “It indicates that he didn’t use a choke hold. 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.”
Officer Pantaleo’s department trial is scheduled to begin on May 13 in front of NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, the New York Daily News reported.
“I think it’s definitely important 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,” London said.
While the city’s medical examiner’s autopsy report took note of Garner’s poor health, it ultimately ruled a choke hold had been used in the arrest, despite the lack of injury, according to the New York Daily News.
After seeing the evidence, a New York Grand Jury declined to indict on any criminal charges.
The federal inquiry that has dragged on for years has split the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) in half between those who want to go after the officer and those who think success with the case would be impossible, according to The New York Times.
Officer Pantaleo has remained on desk duty for NYPD since the incident, because the department’s internal investigation is usually not completed until the DoJ has made its final determination.
The disciplinary charges were filed after a Grand Jury already refused to charge Officer Pantaleo and federal authorities have refused to take action against him for years.
The New York Police Department announced in July of 2018 that it would no longer wait for the Department of Justice to complete its investigation into the 2014 death of Garner, the Charlotte Observer reported.
“Based on our most recent conversations, it has become clear that a definite date by which time a final decision by the U.S. DOJ will be rendered in this matter cannot be predicted,” NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Lawrence Byrne wrote in a letter to DoJ Deputy Chief Paige Fitzgerald at the time.
“The NYPD has come to the conclusion that given the extraordinary passage of time since the incident without a final decision on the US DOJ’s criminal investigation, any further delay in moving ahead with our own disciplinary proceedings can no longer be justified,” the letter read.
In 2015, Garner’s family received $5.9 million from the city to settle their wrongful death claim, the Charlotte Observer reported. That settlement prevented a lawsuit which would have resulted in an earlier release of the autopsy report.