Takedown an issue for Garner federal grand jury

An NYPD training sergeant testified for a second time last week before a federal grand jury in Brooklyn hearing testimony in the 2014 “chokehold” death of Eric Garner in Staten Island.

Faced with what police sources have called a “hostile” grand jury, the sergeant reportedly testified that what has been described in the media as a NYPD-banned chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo is, in fact, a legitimate police takedown known as a “seat-belt” maneuver. In contrast to a chokehold, an officer grabs a person from behind around his shoulder and wraps his arm across his chest to restrain him, said a NYPD official who asked for anonymity because grand jury proceedings are secret. That way, the official said, the person does not have the use of his arms.

The problem with the takedown of Garner, said the official, is that cops are trained to use the maneuver on an average-size person. Garner was 6-foot-4, 350 pounds. Pantaleo is about 5-foot-10 and weighs about 165. He tried to arrest Garner on a charge of selling single cigarettes. As Garner resisted, a video shows Pantaleo brought him down from behind, his arm around Garner’s throat and Garner’s saying, “I can’t breathe.” He died an hour later.

The testimony came the same day as a meeting between Garner’s family members and Justice Department officials. But the meeting was not at the office of the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District in Brooklyn. They gathered at a Marriott Hotel in Brooklyn. No one from the local U.S. attorney’s office reportedly attended, and it’s unclear whether the office was notified.

If that’s the case, the meeting reflects the discord surrounding the Garner case. The Eastern District took it over in late 2014 after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo.

Center stage at the Marriott was the Rev. Al Sharpton, who led rallies in support of Garner’s family and against the cops. Also present were Garner’s widow, Esaw; his mother, Gwendolyn; and daughter Erica. At least two lawyers were present: Jonathan Moore, who represents the Garner family, and Jason Leventhal, a lawyer for Legacy, Garner’s 3-year-old daughter.

“The bad news is we were not told they are going to move forward and be prosecuted,” Sharpton said afterward. “The good news is they said this case is alive and it is not closed.”