Hearing on the Death of Eric Garner Reveals Evidence Fabrication

Explosive revelations in the extrajudicial killing of Eric Garner by New York Police in 2014 continued this past week. During the disciplinary trial for Daniel Pantaleo — the officer who administered the chokehold widely believed to have killed Garner — his partner, Officer Justin D’Amico, stated that he misrepresented the seriousness of Garner’s crimes in police paperwork, the Associated Press reported.

D’Amico filled out paperwork alleging that Garner was in possession of 10,000 cigarettes, a felony tax charge. Garner, however, only had a few packs of Newports that amounted to fewer than 100 cigarettes, which he was selling outside of a bodega without a license. D’Amico, who is not facing charges but may be fired, claimed that he could see Garner selling cigarettes from 200 feet away. A prosecutor with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) determined he was 328 feet away, according to CBS News. Yet this exaggeration of evidence against Eric Garner is just one of the many explosive revelations to emerge from this administrative hearing.

A grand jury failed to indict Pantaleo in 2014 for the murder of Eric Garner. The administrative disciplinary hearing will determine whether Pantaleo will keep his job and evaluate if he inappropriately used the chokehold maneuver. The chokehold set into motion “a lethal sequence of events” for Garner who was asthmatic and suffered a heart attack in the ambulance.

Chokeholds involve a grappling hold that reduces or prevents air or blood from entering the neck of the individual in the hold and are banned by most police departments (the NYPD banned chokeholds in the 1990s). The critical determinant is whether the hands of the individual administering the maneuver are clasped in a "vise grip." Pantaleo’s attorney, Stuart London, argued that the officer didn’t use a chokehold, but rather an academy-approved “seatbelt maneuver,” Gothamist reported. According to Gothamist, a commanding officer in the Police Academy said Pantaleo “unequivocally” used the banned chokehold. A New York medical examiner ruled that Pantaleo used a chokehold, Vox reported. Pantaleo’s lawyers plan on calling on a medical examiner from St. Louis, Missouri to refute the findings, the Associated Press reported.

D’Amico also claimed that he thought Garner was “playing possum” or lying still and pretending to be dead during the encounter, the New York Daily News noted, though this contention was unfounded.

In addition to the fabrication of evidence, chokehold use, and discrepancies in police description of Garner’s interaction with police, administrative wrangling over the case reveals serious problems with the system. Richard Emery, the former head of the CCRB, criticized the fact that he could not get access to the grand jury evidence. Access was blocked by a judge and the city's corporation counsel.

Garner’s death sparked national attention, marches, and ongoing commentary from the family. It was also the impetus for the “I Can’t Breathe” slogan, which informed protest against extrajudicial police killings, and was the rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America. He is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.