New York, NY - After years of fighting to prevent the release of Eric Garner's autopsy report, the city was finally required to disclose the report, and it shows that there was no damage to Garner's neck.
Lawyers for Officer Daniel Pantaleo have tried for years to get a copy of the autopsy report, according to the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA).
The city had been able to successfully block the release of the report, but that changed now that Officer Pantaleo is set to go on a disciplinary trial after the city's Civilian Complaint Review Board charged him with excessive force violations.
The disciplinary charges come after a Grand Jury already refused to charge Officer Pantaleo and federal authorities have refused to take action against him for years.
According to the PBA, the autopsy report "demonstrates conclusively that Mr. Garner did not die of strangulation of the neck from a chokehold which would have caused a crushed larynx (windpipe) and a fractured hyoid bone. The report notes that Mr. Garner’s windpipe and hyoid bone were both intact."
"This case demonstrates the danger that is inherent in pre-judging incidents absent all of the information that must be considered in order to come to a truthful and accurate conclusion," PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said. "The death of Eric Garner was tragic and we feel for the family’s loss, but there has been a false narrative built against PO Pantaleo by the emotion on the street instead of the facts. Sadly, Mr. Garner’s health was so poor that it is highly likely that if he had decided to flee police instead of fighting them, the end result would have been the same. The exertion and stress would have overcome his already seriously ill body and would have resulted in his death."
"In retrospect, PO Pantaleo used the least amount of force necessary to effect this arrest," Lynch added. "Letting Mr. Garner go free was not an option because he was a repeat offender against whom there were more complaints of illegal activity from the community. The officer did not hit Garner with his hands, he did not strike him in any way nor did he draw his weapon in order to gain compliance with a lawful order. He did not use pepper spray or any other more forceful method to take Mr. Garner into custody. He simply used leverage against a much larger, much stronger man to bring him to the ground in order to complete the arrest."
"PO Pantaleo did precisely what he was trained to do in the Police Academy and that was to use as little force as is necessary to gain compliance," Lynch concluded. "In view of this new information and in consideration of an unsolicited, published medical assessment of what occurred that tragic day by a doctor who specializes in surgery on morbidly obese patients, all disciplinary charges against PO Pantaleo should be dropped immediately and he should return to work.”
The New York Police Department announced in July that it would no longer wait for the Department of Justice to complete its investigation into the 2014 death of Garner.
Although the department generally waits for federal prosecutors to conclude their investigations into allegations of civil rights violations before opening an internal probe, this matter has gone on far longer than usual, the Charlotte Observer reported.
"Based on our most recent conversations, it has become clear that a definite date by which time a final decision by the U.S. DOJ will be rendered in this matter cannot be predicted," NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Lawrence Byrne wrote in a letter to DOJ Deputy Chief Paige Fitzgerald at the time.
“The NYPD has come to the conclusion that given the extraordinary passage of time since the incident without a final decision on the US DOJ’s criminal investigation, any further delay in moving ahead with our own disciplinary proceedings can no longer be justified,” the letter read.
Garner was arrested by NYPD officers on July 17, 2014, after police stopped him for selling individual, untaxed loose cigarettes on a city sidewalk.
He resisted arrest and fought with officers who struggled to take the 350-pound man into custody.
In the process of subduing Garner, video taken by witnesses showed that Officer Pantaleo had his arm around Garner's neck, and pressed his face against the sidewalk.
Garner repeatedly told officers “I can’t breathe,” a phrase that became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter in the months that followed.
Officer Pantaleo later said he tried to use a “seatbelt maneuver” on Garner, and did not mean to put the much larger man into a choke hold.
Garner lost consciousness on the sidewalk, and died in the hospital an hour later from a medical emergency.
Garner's autopsy report determined that he died of a medical emergency induced by officers who were arresting him. The medical examiner declared it was a homicide.
A New York Grand Jury declined to indict on any criminal charges.
The federal inquiry that has dragged on for years has split the Justice Department in half between those who want to go after the officer and those who think success with the case would be impossible, according to The New York Times.
Former prosecutors who have worked on building a case over the past almost four years have complained that the team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who did the initial investigation didn’t believe Officer Pantaleo had done anything wrong, and so didn’t properly investigate, according to The New York Times.
In 2015, Garner’s family received $5.9 million from the city to settle their wrongful death claim, the Charlotte Observer reported. That settlement prevented a lawsuit which would have resulted in an earlier release of the autopsy report.