A 43-year-old Staten Island man died Thursday after a police officer used a chokehold that was apparently not authorized by department regulations, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said Friday.
Bratton spoke about the death of Eric Garner, of Port Richmond, to whom the hold was applied as he was being subdued for resisting arrest. Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at a news conference in City Hall Friday.
The mayor, who called the death "a terrible tragedy," said afterward that he was postponing his family vacation to Italy one day, until Saturday, because "he thought it was important to be here tonight [Friday] and consult with community leaders," according to an administration official.
The official did not identify which leaders the mayor planned to speak with.
But some residents who witnessed the arrest attempt, along with community leaders, said the incident was an example of police brutality and racism toward a victim who was black. They called for strong action by the mayor and police officials.
At the news conference, Bratton said that the apparent unauthorized chokehold was used by two officers who were attempting to take Garner into custody after local merchants complained he was taking away their business by selling, at a small park across from the Staten Island Ferry, "loosies," single untaxed cigarettes.
Police officials have said Garner, who reportedly weighed 350 pounds and was more than 6 feet tall, has a lengthy history of arrests, including for the selling of untaxed cigarettes.
Civilian witnesses, who have spoken to the Staten Island Advance and other media, have reportedly said Garner was not selling untaxed cigarettes, but was attempting to break up a fight between people who fled before police arrived.
"Chokeholds are prohibited by the New York City Police Department and most departments," Bratton said at the news conference. The commissioner added that "Mr. Garner repeatedly complained of difficulty breathing as the officers wrestled him to the ground."
An ambulance was called and Garner went into cardiac arrest while he was being taken to Richmond University Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead, Bratton said. However, he added that the medical examiner will rule on the cause of death.
De Blasio and Bratton said that a final determination of any breaking of law or departmental regulations would be made after an investigation by the Staten Island District Attorney's office and police internal affairs.
Bratton said the two officers involved -- whom he identified as an 8-year and a 4-year department veterans -- have been placed on desk duty.
In a statement, PBA president Patrick J. Lynch said: "Not wanting to be arrested does not grant an individual the right to resist arrest nor does it free the officers of the obligation to make the arrest. In these cases, justice for all involved demands a complete and thorough investigation of all the facts before any conclusions are drawn."