Cop accused of using fatal chokehold on Eric Garner won't testify

/ CBS/AP

NYPD cop accused of chokehold fights for job

An NYPD cop accused of using a banned chokehold in the fatal 2014 arrest of Eric Garner won't testify at his departmental trial. A lawyer said it would be "reckless" to put Daniel Pantaleo on the stand because federal investigators are still weighing whether to file civil rights charges, reports the New York Post.

"Clearly, my client is the target and a subject in that investigation," defense lawyer Stuart London said.

A federal inquiry began after a state grand jury declined to charge Pantaleo in 2014 over the fatal encounter on Staten Island. Federal authorities are facing a mid-July deadline to decide whether to charge him with civil rights violations. The Post reports that a Brooklyn federal prosecutor was in the courtroom Wednesday monitoring the proceedings and left after London's remarks.

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Pantaleo could be fired if an administrative judge determines he violated NYPD procedures.

Garner's last moments were captured on a disturbing cell phone video. His dying words, "I can't breathe," became a rallying cry against police brutality.

New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo leaves his house Monday, May 13, 2019, in Staten Island, N.Y., to face an NYPD disciplinary trial for the July 2014 death of Eric Garner. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AP

Garner, a father of six, had been arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes numerous times and was suspected of doing the same when officers approached him, police said. Garner, who had asthma, suffered a heart attack in an ambulance and was pronounced dead at a hospital.

A city medical examiner testified last month that Garner's death was caused by the chokehold, which set off "a lethal sequence of events." But before the defense rested its case Wednesday, defense lawyer Stuart London called to the stand a forensic pathologist who testified Garner's death was caused by heart disease exacerbated by the police interaction, the Post reports. Dr. Michael Graham, chief medical examiner for the city of St. Louis and a professor at St. Louis University, testified Garner's death couldn't have been caused by neck compression.
"He never lost consciousness. He's talking again," Graham testified as the video was played, reports amNewYork. "He probably felt that he couldn't breathe but the fact of the matter is, he could breathe."

eric-garner.jpg
Eric Garner, who died after an arrest by an NYPD officer July 17, 2014, is pictured in an undated family photo released by the National Action Network. AP Photo

Also testifying Wednesday for the defense was retired NYPD Sgt. Russell Jung, a former Police Academy instructor who said Pantaleo didn't use a chokehold, but rather an academy-taught "seatbelt hold," during which an officer locks arms around someone's torso. He said the approved technique might result in "incidental contact with the neck," reports amNewYork.

On cross-examination, Jung admitted the NYPD started teaching the seatbelt hold after Pantaleo's time at the academy and none of the training materials mention neck contact, amNewYork reports.

The departmental trial is reportedly expected to resume Thursday with rebuttal evidence and possible closing arguments. Once the proceedings conclude, the trial commissioner who has overseen the case will prepare a written report and recommendation to be delivered to NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill, who will have final say on any possible punishment for Pantaleo. Pantaleo faces anything from a loss of vacation days to termination.

First published on June 5, 2019 / 6:55 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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