The New York Police Department official in charge of training recruits said Tuesday that the restraint technique an officer used on Eric Garner five years ago, leading to his death, “meets the definition” of a chokehold, a practice banned since the 1990s because of its potential for lethality.
Cell phone video of the July 2014 confrontation shows Garner coughing after Officer Daniel Pantaleo wrapped an arm around his neck — an indication that pressure on Garner’s windpipe obstructed his breathing, Inspector Richard Dee said in testimony at a disciplinary trial that could lead to Pantaleo’s firing.
“I’m not saying he intentionally did that, but that’s where his arms are,” Dee testified.
Dee is the latest high-ranking official to say what Garner’s family has long believed: that Pantaleo’s conduct in grabbing Garner and wrestling him to a Staten Island sidewalk violated department rules and ran counter to his training and the repeated warnings officers receive to avoid tactics that could hinder breathing.
In the days after Garner’s death, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner at the time, Bill Bratton, both said it appeared to them that Pantaleo had used a chokehold, and the medical examiner ruled that a chokehold caused Garner’s death. The autopsy is expected to be the focus of Wednesday’s testimony.
An internal affairs investigation completed five months after Garner’s death also reached the conclusion that a chokehold was used and that Pantaleo should face disciplinary charges. But the police department put its case on hold, saying it was deferring to federal prosecutors who were looking into potential civil rights charges.
Last year, however, police officials said they were out of patience and cleared the way for a police watchdog agency to pursue a disciplinary case against Pantaleo.