After five years, the death of Eric Garner is finally getting a public reckoning — in the form of a New York Police Department administrative trial for Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
Central issues in the trial are Pantaleo’s restraint of Garner and Garner’s autopsy report. Here’s a look at how it unfolded.
“Loosie” sales are big business in New York. The NYPD had put out a directive to crack down on these smuggled cigarette sales, and this push led to seven arrests on the corner of Bay Street and Victory Boulevard on Staten Island.
Officer Justin D’Amico caught Garner selling cigarettes on that corner and let him off with a warning.
Two weeks later, he returned with Pantaleo — this time, to arrest him.
NYPD Inspector Richard Dee testified that it made sense for Pantaleo to approach Garner from behind and try to lock his arm underneath Garner’s armpit.
But when Pantaleo’s arm slid around Garner’s neck, Dee said, it met the definition of a chokehold and became deadly.
Chokeholds are prohibited by the NYPD. At this point in his career, Pantaleo would have received at least three training documents stating this.
The first major goal of Pantaleo’s defense was showing the chokehold was an attempted and department-sanctioned “seat-belt maneuver.”
The second goal was disputing the autopsy.
For the first time in a career of more than 3,000 autopsies, Floriana Persechino had a video showing the moments leading up to the death.
Persechino listed “chokehold” as the cause of death. She said “air hunger” from the chokehold led to an asthma attack and ultimately to cardiac arrest. But Pantaleo’s defense did not accept this.
In the autopsy report, Pantaleo’s defense tried to simultaneously underscore details of Garner’s perilous health condition (obesity, chronic asthma and hypertension) and discredit Persechino’s overall conclusion of a chokehold as the cause of death.
The defense also called in a medical examiner from St. Louis, who argued that because Garner did not lose consciousness, a chokehold was not his cause of death.
Pantaleo declined to testify at his trial.
Suzanne O’Hare, the principal prosecutor, said the hearing’s final words, her voice cracking for the first time: “God help us. He couldn’t breathe.”