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Officer Who Killed Eric Garner with Chokehold Told Grand Jury Being Filmed Didn’t Bother Him

Screen shot of Daniel Pantaleo from video taken during Eric Garner chokehold incident

New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, according to his attorney, told a Staten Island grand jury that he was aware while he was taking Eric Garner down with a chokehold that he was being recorded. However, he was certain he was not committing any misconduct so it did not bother him that someone was filming him, according to his attorney.

The officer’s reported statements about having his actions captured on video are unbelievable. Ramsey Orta, the person who filmed Pantaleo and other officers using force in a brutal manner which would result in the unarmed black man’s death, was arrested days after Garner was killed and accused police of setting him up on “gun possession charges” in retaliation. A few days later, Orta’s wife, Chrissie Ortiz, was arrested on assault charges.

Orta was subsequently indicted by a grand jury in Staten Island. The arrests of Orta and his wife appeared to be a prime example of how police will protect their own.

On the other hand, Pantaleo’s comments demonstrate how confident he was that the grand jury process would not return an indictment. He was willing to assert that what he saw on video did not bother him because he did not think he had done anything wrong. Since he did not think he did anything wrong, there was no reason to tell the grand jury he was concerned about the fact that someone was going to post video.

Pantaleo’s confidence was also bolstered by the fact that Daniel M. Donovan Jr., the Richmond County prosecutor in charge of securing an indictment, planned to allow him to testify for hours before grand jury members so he could exonerate himself. Rather than only show the grand jury the video and relevant police regulations officers are told to follow, Pantaleo was able to tell a story about the incident from his perspective.

What anybody watching the video saw was a 6-foot-4, 350-pound black man upset that officers were harassing him again for selling loose or untaxed cigarettes.

Garner maintains that he is not selling anything and is minding his own business. As he urges police to let him be, Garner, he is wrestled to the ground by officers including Pantaleo who puts him in an illegal chokehold. Garner is crying out, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” as Pantaleo pushes his leg into Garner’s head, which is now on the sidewalk. “I can’t breathe,” he cries again.

There at least eight cops at the scene. No officers provide him with medical help. He lies on the ground in handcuffs. His body is lifeless. Later, a medical examiner would rule Garner’s death a homicide and claim the father of six children had been killed by a chokehold.

According to the New York Times, Pantaleo heard Garner crying, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” His lawyer, Stuart London, said Pantaleo maintained that he “tried to disengage as quickly as he could.” But Pantaleo also contended because Garner could still speak and say, “I can’t breathe,” he, “in fact, could breathe.”

Eric Garner being put in chokehold

From the Times:

Officer Pantaleo testified that when he put his hands on Mr. Garner, he was employing a maneuver taught to him at the Police Academy, hooking an arm underneath one of Mr. Garner’s arms while wrapping the other around Mr. Garner’s torso, Mr. London said. The move is meant to “tip the person so they lose their balance and go to the ground,” as seen in wrestling, Mr. London said.

However, Pantaleo’s other arm does not wrap around Garner’s torso. It goes around his neck. Garner might still be alive if Pantaleo had actually employed the wrestling maneuver he claims he was trained to use.

But then things changed. As the struggle continued, one of Officer Pantaleo’s arms moved around Mr. Garner’s neck. Officer Pantaleo told the grand jury that he became fearful as he found himself sandwiched between a much larger man and a storefront window

Things did not change. The video shows Pantaleo’s left arm deliberately wrapping around Garner’s neck before he is wrestled to the sidewalk. It is not like he inadvertently slid his arm up to where it was suffocating Garner. His arm placed Garner in a chokehold.

His lawyer told the Times that Pantaleo felt glass “buckle” while Garner was against him and he was against the glass. “He was concerned that both he and Garner would go through that glass.” Whose fault is that?

When Pantaleo arrived with the other officers to make an arrest, he had plenty of time to survey the area and see what was nearby. He even had time to decide what direction he needed to go with Garner’s body in order to avoid shattering glass.

According to Pantaleo’s attorney, he also told grand jury members he “wanted to make sure that Mr. Garner was not injured by other officers rushing in, as well as to prevent Mr. Garner from possibly biting one of them.” In other words, Pantaleo maintained what one might call a safety strangle to protect Garner as well as other officers.

Pantaleo reportedly said to the grand jury that he tried to get off Garner “as quick as he could.” He believed once the EMT arrived everything would be okay. Except, in the video, once Garner is lying on the sidewalk and not moving, it is about twenty to thirty seconds before Pantaleo lifts his knee and gets up. He moves slowly and no officers seem worried about getting him medical attention.

And, finally, Pantaleo said to the grand jury that he never intended to injure or harm Garner. He was able to express that he was sorry for what happened. He was just trying to make an arrest.

Put it all together: Officer Daniel Pantaleo told the grand jury he was just trying to arrest Garner for selling loose cigarettes when he resisted arrest. In order to apprehend him, he used a wrestling move, not a chokehold, to bring him down to the ground. He experienced fear as he imagined a 350-pound body falling on him as he fell through a glass window. Somehow, he immobilized him so he could be put in handcuffs and held his position to keep not only other officers safe but Garner safe as well. He stood up thinking the EMT would come over and help resuscitate him. Garner unfortunately was probably dead, which was tragic.

Body cameras are supposed to make officers hesitate and think about what sort of force they are going to use on a person. That is what government officials like President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder believe. But, all Pantaleo, with heightened credibility and a friendly prosecutor to ensure he would not be indicted, had to say to render the video that shocked citizens inconsequential was tell his story.

*

Garner had asthma and was obese. Pantaleo likely benefited from someone testifying that asthma and obesity were contributing factors to his death. They possibly said the police officer may have strangled him, but he would not have died if he did not have asthma and had not been obese. It now becomes the poor black man with limited ability to pay for healthcare’s fault that he could not breathe and died.

The patrol guide, according to retired NYPD Detective Carlton Berkley, who read from it in a clip aired on “Democracy Now!”, reads:

Members of the New York City Police Department will not use chokeholds. A chokehold shall include but is not limited to any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or induce the intake of air.

But Pantaleo said he did not mean to use a chokehold. He was using a “wrestling” move taught at the Police Academy. That left room for grand jurors decide that it was not beyond a reasonable doubt that involuntary manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide was committed, and it is the fault of the prosecutor that grand jurors had the testimony of Pantaleo to help them decide not to indict him.

The other police officers at the scene, who did nothing to stop Pantaleo’s brutality, are to blame for what happened as well. Berkley read this part of the patrol guide for “Democracy Now!”:

At the scene of a police incident, many members of the service may be present and some members may not be involved and taking police action. However, this does not relieve any member present of the obligation to ensure that the requirements of the law and department regulations are complied with. Members of the service are required to intervene if the use of force against a subject clearly becomes excessive. Failure to do so may result in both criminal and civil liability. Excessive force will not be tolerated.

Yet, the other officers were granted immunity from prosecution. The prosecutor only tried or pretended to try to indict Pantaleo.

The criminal actions of Pantaleo and the other officers were captured on video, but they did not care because they knew no matter what people thought they saw in the video their version of the incident would be more important to the grand jury than what grand jurors thought they saw in the video. They could easily make what looks like brutality seem like average police work ending in tragedy.

Systemic and institutional racism ensures this outcome, where police in any part of the United States can escape charges for killing unarmed black men. The outcome is never intentional. It just works like clockwork, always finding innovative ways to avoid holding officers accountable; for example, transforming the grand jury process into a secret trial where officers are given extraordinary opportunity to exonerate themselves.

Altogether, it ensures that police officers never have to pay for using violence against black lives who matter less to the criminal (in)justice system and systemic reforms are the only answer to addressing this problem of killer cops going unpunished.

CommunityFDL Main BlogThe Dissenter

Officer Who Killed Eric Garner with Chokehold Told Grand Jury Being Filmed Didn’t Bother Him

Screen shot of Daniel Pantaleo from video taken during Eric Garner chokehold incident

New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, according to his attorney, told a Staten Island grand jury that he was aware while he was taking Eric Garner down with a chokehold that he was being recorded. However, he was certain he was not committing any misconduct so it did not bother him that someone was filming him, according to his attorney.

The officer’s reported statements about having his actions captured on video are unbelievable. Ramsey Orta, the person who filmed Pantaleo and other officers using force in a brutal manner which would result in the unarmed black man’s death, was arrested days after Garner was killed and accused police of setting him up on “gun possession charges” in retaliation. A few days later, Orta’s wife, Chrissie Ortiz, was arrested on assault charges.

Orta was subsequently indicted by a grand jury in Staten Island. The arrests of Orta and his wife appeared to be a prime example of how police will protect their own.

On the other hand, Pantaleo’s comments demonstrate how confident he was that the grand jury process would not return an indictment. He was willing to assert that what he saw on video did not bother him because he did not think he had done anything wrong. Since he did not think he did anything wrong, there was no reason to tell the grand jury he was concerned about the fact that someone was going to post video.

Pantaleo’s confidence was also bolstered by the fact that Daniel M. Donovan Jr., the Richmond County prosecutor in charge of securing an indictment, planned to allow him to testify for hours before grand jury members so he could exonerate himself. Rather than only show the grand jury the video and relevant police regulations officers are told to follow, Pantaleo was able to tell a story about the incident from his perspective.

What anybody watching the video saw was a 6-foot-4, 350-pound black man upset that officers were harassing him again for selling loose or untaxed cigarettes.

Garner maintains that he is not selling anything and is minding his own business. As he urges police to let him be, Garner, he is wrestled to the ground by officers including Pantaleo who puts him in an illegal chokehold. Garner is crying out, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” as Pantaleo pushes his leg into Garner’s head, which is now on the sidewalk. “I can’t breathe,” he cries again.

There at least eight cops at the scene. No officers provide him with medical help. He lies on the ground in handcuffs. His body is lifeless. Later, a medical examiner would rule Garner’s death a homicide and claim the father of six children had been killed by a chokehold.

According to the New York Times, Pantaleo heard Garner crying, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” His lawyer, Stuart London, said Pantaleo maintained that he “tried to disengage as quickly as he could.” But Pantaleo also contended because Garner could still speak and say, “I can’t breathe,” he, “in fact, could breathe.”

Eric Garner being put in chokehold

From the Times:

Officer Pantaleo testified that when he put his hands on Mr. Garner, he was employing a maneuver taught to him at the Police Academy, hooking an arm underneath one of Mr. Garner’s arms while wrapping the other around Mr. Garner’s torso, Mr. London said. The move is meant to “tip the person so they lose their balance and go to the ground,” as seen in wrestling, Mr. London said.

However, Pantaleo’s other arm does not wrap around Garner’s torso. It goes around his neck. Garner might still be alive if Pantaleo had actually employed the wrestling maneuver he claims he was trained to use.

But then things changed. As the struggle continued, one of Officer Pantaleo’s arms moved around Mr. Garner’s neck. Officer Pantaleo told the grand jury that he became fearful as he found himself sandwiched between a much larger man and a storefront window

Things did not change. The video shows Pantaleo’s left arm deliberately wrapping around Garner’s neck before he is wrestled to the sidewalk. It is not like he inadvertently slid his arm up to where it was suffocating Garner. His arm placed Garner in a chokehold.

His lawyer told the Times that Pantaleo felt glass “buckle” while Garner was against him and he was against the glass. “He was concerned that both he and Garner would go through that glass.” Whose fault is that? (more…)

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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