NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York City medical examiner who ruled that a policeman used a chokehold in 2014 on an unarmed black man who died during an attempted arrest is expected to testify on Wednesday about the autopsy at the officer’s disciplinary trial.
Cellphone videos taken by bystanders show Officer Daniel Pantaleo, 33, putting his arm around the neck of Eric Garner as he attempted to arrest Garner on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes on a sidewalk in the city’s Staten Island borough.
The New York Police Department has banned its officers from using chokeholds for decades, saying the maneuver is too risky.
The video footage sparked a national outcry over policing tactics used against black men, and Garner’s dying refrain of “I can’t breathe!” became a rallying cry in the early days of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In hearings this week at the New York Police Department’s headquarters in Manhattan, Pantaleo’s lawyers have argued that he did not use a chokehold in restraining Garner while arresting him and that the officer did not cause Garner’s death.
One of his lawyers, Stuart London, even ripped up a copy of the official autopsy report in front of the department judge, saying it was wrong.
Dr. Floriana Persechino, the author of that report, is also due to testify on Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman for the city’s chief medical examiner’s office.
Prosecutors from the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), a city agency that has some oversight powers over the police department, said Persechino would testify that she found hemorrhaging and trauma to layers of muscle in Garner’s neck caused by a chokehold.
A summary of the autopsy shared with reporters in 2014 ruled that the cause of death was: “Compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”
It also said that Garner’s asthma, obesity and hypertensive cardiovascular disease were “contributing conditions.” Garner was 43 when he died.
In hearings this week, several of Pantaleo’s colleagues, including investigators in the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau and an officer who oversees cadet training, say the videos show Pantaleo used a chokehold.
The CCRB has said Pantaleo should be fired. The ultimate decision will be made by Police Commissioner James O’Neill after the hearing.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Dan Grebler