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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

PBA unveiling its defense in Pantaleo case

The narrative of police brutality has run fast and hard because of fatal police shootings of unarmed black men across the country.

Gwen Carr, Eric Garner's mother, speaks to reporters

Gwen Carr, Eric Garner's mother, speaks to reporters on Dec. 6 after a disciplinary hearing for NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Is it possible that Eric Garner might not have died from a chokehold by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo? At least, that’s what the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association claims.

The PBA bases its conclusion on an autopsy by Dr. Barbara Sampson, NYC’s medical examiner. The PBA has her report now that Pantaleo will face an NYPD administrative trial in May.

The PBA also cites a 2014 article by G. Wesley Clark, former medical examiner from St. Louis, who wrote that the cause of death was “the unfortunate synergy between his disease of morbid obesity and actions most police perform countless times with only transient discomfort to the arrestee.” Clark might be a witness for Pantaleo.

Meanwhile, in response to the PBA’s new chokehold claim, Sampson reiterated her earlier forensic determination: Garner died from injuries including neck compression. “It is false that crushing of the windpipe and fracture of the hyoid bone would necessarily be seen at autopsy as the result of a chokehold,” she said.

Pantaleo’s PBA attorney, Stuart London, points out there was no external injury to the neck; that the hyoid bone, a wishbone-like bone in the neck, was intact; that there was no trauma to the trachea; and that when Garner was saying, “I can’t breathe,” Pantaleo’s arm was not around his neck.

Even if true, the possibility that Garner didn’t die from a chokehold may not sway people more than four years after Garner’s death in July 2014. The narrative of police brutality has run fast and hard because of fatal police shootings of unarmed black men across the country. This includes NYC, where a year ago an officer was found guilty of fatally shooting an unarmed teen in his Bronx apartment.

The city’s black politicians have been loud on the Garner case since the outset. For instance, a month after Garner’s death, former Gov. David Paterson said, “We will not stop until someone goes to jail.” And many black city officials called on the feds to take the Garner case from Staten Island’s district attorney. After a grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, that’s just what happened.

The feds spent four years considering whether to indict Pantaleo on civil rights charges. They asked the NYPD to refrain from trying Pantaleo administratively until their investigation was complete, although nothing prevented the NYPD from acting unilaterally. Instead, then-NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton complied with the feds, keeping Pantaleo on modified assignment. In July, the feds told the NYPD it could try Pantaleo.

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