As the investigation into the death of a Staten Island man while in police custody continues, NY1 talked to a lawyer who represented Eric Garner in three previous cases involving low-level crimes. Rocco Vertuccio filed the following report.
Eric Garner was defiant to the end.
The cell phone video acquired by The Daily News captured police trying to arrest Garner for selling cigarettes illegally, Garner tells the officers to leave him alone, that he was actually trying to break up a fight.
"He always felt like he was being targeted and harassed by officers arresting him for no basis,” said Christopher Pisciotta, Garner's former attorney, of the Legal Aid Society.
Before his death, the public defender's office was representing Garner on three cases. Two were charges he was selling cigarettes illegally and one where he was accused of driving without a license. These are considered low-level crimes. Garner vowed to fight all of them.
"He refused to plea bargain. He wanted to go to trial on all matters,” said Pisciotta.
Pisciotta says he was surprised at how police responded to Garner last week. The video shows Officer Daniel Pantaleo using what looks like a chokehold on Garner. Chokeholds were banned by the NYPD 20 years ago. Pisciotta says his office has received numerous complaints over the past year about officers from the 120 Police Precinct using too much force in similar arrests, including a drinking in public arrest on the same street where Garner died.
"Officers alleged that he was resisting them. The client stated that he was not and there was video showing the officers again threw him down to the ground striking him with a baton,” said Pisciotta.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board has substantiated 10 chokehold cases since 2009. In all those cases, the board recommended the most serious discipline, but that did not always happen.
Many on Staten Island now have even less faith in the NYPD.
"Staten Island Police get away with murder literally in this situation literally," said Garner’s friend Taniya Green.
The Garner family has retained an attorney a possible sign the family is now planning legal action.
Meanwhile, a candlelight vigil is planned for Garner on Staten Island Tuesday night.