The lawyer of the police officer who choked Eric Garner on July 17 said his client told a grand jury he did not intentionally use a chokehold when he killed the 43-year-old asthmatic.
In an interview with the New York Times, Stuart London, the lawyer for officer Daniel Pantaleo, said Pantaleo testified he started out using a kind of wrestling move taught to him at the police academy meant to “tip the person so they lose their balance and go to the ground.”
But as the struggle continued, he became fearful, the lawyer told the Times, because he was caught between Garner and a storefront window. At that point, his arms moved to Garner’s neck.
The confrontation reportedly began when police tried to arrest Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.
The testimony to the Staten Island grand jury has not been released, so it’s impossible to independently verify what Pantaleo or anyone else said. But if the lawyer is accurately portraying the testimony and if the jury believed it, it would help explain the decision yesterday not to indict.
The chokehold is banned by the New York Police Department. Had the officer intentionally used it anyway from the outset, it could have hurt his case before the grand jury.
His statement that he was fearful for his physical safety could have also helped him, since courts give police considerable leeway to use deadly force in such situations — as another grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown shows.
Pantaleo “wanted to get across to the grand jury that it was never his intention to injure or harm anyone,” London told the Times. “He was really just describing how he was attempting to arrest someone.”
What may have been Garner’s dying declaration — “I can’t breathe” — became a rallying cry at demonstrations around the country Wednesday night, when protesters condemned a New York grand jury that failed to indict Pantaleo.
But London said Pantaleo heard Garner’s plea.
“That’s why he attempted to get off as quick as he could,” London said, as the Times reported. “He thought that once E.M.T. arrived, everything would be O.K.”
Though many think video of Garner’s arrest plainly contradicts Pantaleo’s account, his lawyer disagreed. Indeed, London said the officer knew he was being filmed. “He knew he was committing no misconduct so it didn’t bother him,” London said.
The attorney said Pantaleo — who offered what might be interpreted as a statement of regret on on Wednesday — is ready to move on.
“Although my client is gratified that the Staten Island grand jury found in his favor, he is well aware that there was a loss of life in this case, so there are no winners,” London said. “The Garner family, the wife and children, are in his prayers. And he is relieved to put this stage of the case behind him.”