Expert pathologist: Eric Garner died in police chokehold

Khorri Atkinson | 9/25/2014, 2:46 p.m.
An expert forensic pathologist hired by the attorneys representing the family of Eric Garner, whose death was ruled a homicide ...
Eric Garner, Innocent father choked to death by NYPD on July 17.

An expert forensic pathologist hired by the attorneys representing the family of Eric Garner, whose death was ruled a homicide after an apparent police chokehold that Police Commissioner William Bratton said is prohibited, concurs with the city’s medical examiner’s autopsy report, which stated that Garner died of neck compression.

Dr. Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner, announced his preliminary results last Friday at a press conference outside the Manhattan headquarters of the medical examiner’s office, after reviewing Garner’s organs, photographs, X-rays and the medical examiner’s final autopsy report.

“They do confirm that there’s a hemorrhage in the neck indicative of neck compression,” said Baden, adding that the medical examiner’s office “did an excellent autopsy.”

He continued, “There was evidence of preexisting natural disease that has to be taken into account, but the most severe finding was the neck compression. Compression of the neck that prevents breathing trumps everything else as cause of death.”

Baden will issue his final report soon and will determine if there are more “conclusions that can be made.” Baden recently conducted an independent autopsy of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American man who was killed in August during an encounter with a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

Garner, 43, died after he was placed in a chokehold while resisting arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island. The incident was captured in a cellphone video by passerby Ramsey Orta. The video showed NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo placing his arm around Garner’s neck in an effort to subdue him and taking him to the ground. Garner could be heard saying repeatedly to the officers, “I can’t breathe.”

In early August, when the medical examiner’s office ruled Garner’s death a homicide as a result of the chokehold, they added that his health conditions were also contributing factors to his death.

The July 17 caught-on-camera chokehold death sparked nationwide protests and debate about race relations, police brutality against Blacks and Latinos and the overuse of deadly force.

Moments after Baden’s announcement, Patrick Lynch, the president of the powerful Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, insisted that officer Pantaleo did not use a chokehold, but instead used a so-called seatbelt take-down maneuver. He added that the neck compressions were likely caused by life saving medical procedures or intubation by emergency medical doctors, not the police action.

“Despite the efforts of some to canonize Mr. Garner while demonizing the police officers in this case, the undeniable fact is that Eric Garner was a criminal who served significant jail time for serious felony crimes and who brought crime, disorder and fear to the community,” said Lynch, who called the findings of the medical examiner’s office political.

He said Garner made “many bad life choices, some of which brought him poor health.” And despite warnings from the police, “he continued to violate the law and where he ultimately chose to resist arrest. Those bad choices, including the choice to resist arrest, ultimately took his life.”

The case has been sent to a grand jury. Pantaleo and the other officers involved were not arrested and charged. He and another unidentified officer were placed on modified reassignment, pending the outcome of the case. Four emergency medical service workers, who refused to give Garner medical attention at the scene, were suspended without pay, pending an investigation.

Last Saturday, at the National Action Network weekly rally in Harlem, Garner’s wife, Esaw, called for criminal charges against Pantaleo.

“Plain and simple, they just need to arrest him,” she said. “Had it been my husband, he would have been arrested and locked up. He would be in jail right now.”