The head of recruit training at the city’s Police Academy says he watched the video of Officer Daniel Pantaleo wrapping his arms around Eric Garner and that he believes “it meets the definition of a chokehold,” which are banned by the NYPD.
Inspector Richard Dee’s testimony Tuesday came in the second day of the NYPD’s disciplinary trial of Pantaleo, who could be fired if he’s found guilty of violated departmental rules in how he subdued Garner in arresting him on a Staten Island street corner nearly five years ago.
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Eric Garner's family and their supporters say they were happy to hear the inspector's testimony, but that it only confirmed what they knew.
“We have eyes it was always a chokehold. And it is no excuse for that. The NYPD called it a chokehold and chokeholds are prohibited. And therefore Pantaleo should be fired," Loyda Colon, the co-director for the Justice Committee, a police reform group, said after the testimony.
Pantaleo and his partner were trying to arrest Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on Bay Street on Staten Island in July 2014. Garner vehemently denied that he was breaking the law.
According to a cell phone video of the confrontation, Garner repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe” as Pantaleo wrapped his arms around him. He soon lost consciousness and died.
In his testimony, Dee said Pantaleo was trained not to use a chokehold, which the inspector defined as any pressure to the throat or windpipe that could hinder breathing.
Dee added that he was not saying Pantaleo intentionally choked Garner, only that the officer ended up putting his arm around Garner's neck and head.
Pantaleo's defense lawyers argue the officer didn't use a chokehold, but rather what's called a seatbelt takedown.
Dee, however, said police records show Pantaleo did not recieve any training on the seatbelt maneuver.
"The inspector also said Pantaleo had choices. He didn't have to put Eric in a chokehold. He could have waited for backup," Garner’s mother said after the testimony.
Iris Baez, whose son Anthony died after being placed in a chokehold in 1994 in the Bronx by NYPD Officer Francis Livoti, has been with the Garner family during the NYPD trial. Livoti served federal time for using the chokehold.
"When he yells, ‘I can't breathe,’ it reminds me of my son," she said. "You are not supposed to put anybody in a chokehold because this is the result."
A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board is prosecuting the disciplinary case against the officer. It planned to call the city’s medical examiner to testify on Wednesday about his autopsy on Garner and his finding Garner’s death was caused by a chokehold.