A medical examiner has ruled that a police officer's chokehold on a New York City man last month caused the 43-year-old's death.
Medical examiner spokeswoman Julie Bolcer said Friday that Eric Garner's July 17 death, during an arrest on Staten Island, has been ruled a homicide. Garner's death was caused by "the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police," she said, adding that asthma and heart disease were contributing factors.
Chokeholds are prohibited by New York Police Department policy. The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the medical examiner's ruling.
Partial video of the encounter obtained by the New York Daily News shows the 6-foot-3, 350-pound Garner becoming irate and refusing to be handcuffed as officers tried to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a sidewalk — an offense he had been stopped and arrested for several times in the past.
The video then shows one of the officers placing Garner in a chokehold. Garner is heard complaining repeatedly that he can't breathe as at least four other officers bring him down. He then apparently loses consciousness. The video shows the officer who choked Garner using his hands to push Garner's face into the sidewalk.
The video has caused widespread outcry, and Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Justice Department is "closely monitoring" the investigation into Garner's death.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, an eight-year NYPD veteran who carried out the chokehold, was stripped of his badge and gun and put on desk duty. Another officer in the video, who has been with the force for four years, was also taken off the street. The police department did not release the second officer's name.
According to federal court records, three men have sued Pantaleo within the past two years over what they argued were unlawful, racially motivated arrests on Staten Island.
In the first lawsuit, settled by the city in January, two black men in their 40s accused Pantaleo and other officers of arresting them without cause and subjecting them to a "humiliating and unlawful strip search" on a Staten Island street that involved ordering them to "pull their pants and underwear down, squat and cough."
The men said they were held overnight on charges that were ultimately dismissed seven months later.
In a second lawsuit, a man accused Pantaleo and other officers of misrepresenting facts in a police report and other documents to substantiate charges that were eventually dismissed.
The city's independent Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates alleged misconduct by the NYPD, announced after Garner's death that it would review more than 1,000 chokehold complaints it has received against officers over the past five years in an attempt to "discern why officers continue to use this forbidden practice."
The board received more than 200 complaints of alleged incidents involving chokeholds in 2013, The Guardian reported. In more than 60 percent of the 2013 allegations, there was not enough evidence to determine what happened, according to the media outlet.
Al Jazeera and the Associated Press