NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday defended a medical examiner's ruling that a man was killed by neck compressions caused by a police officer's chokehold, while the powerful police union representing rank-and-file officers called the death report "political."
Speaking at a news conference just minutes after Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch denied that Officer Daniel Pantaleo used a chokehold while attempting to arrest Eric Garner on July 17, de Blasio told reporters that the city's medical examiner's office was "the gold standard in this country" for medical science.
Last week, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, saying it was caused by neck compressions from the chokehold and "the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police." Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors in the death, the medical examiner said.
Prosecutors are still investigating. Pantaleo has been stripped of his gun and badge.
Partial video of the arrest shows that Garner, 43, who was being arrested on Staten Island for selling untaxed, loose cigarettes, told the officers taking him into custody that he was being harassed. The 6-foot-3, 350-pound man then shook his arm free from an officer's grasp before he was placed into the chokehold and brought to the ground.
In the video, he can be heard complaining that he can't breathe.
Both the police commissioner and the mayor have said it appears a chokehold was used. Chokeholds are banned under New York Police Department policy.
The new chairman of the independent agency charged with investigating complaints about police said Tuesday during a spirited public meeting that a study examining the 1,128 alleged police chokehold complaints made to the Civilian Complaint Review Board in the past five years is expected to be released by early September.
Richard Emery said the review would examine the cases, look for patterns and focus on how complaints are made to the board. Its current process of documenting allegations may not have captured all of the chokehold complaints, he said. Of those, 608 were not fully investigated, 520 were fully investigated and 10 were substantiated.
On Tuesday, Lynch disputed the medical examiner's findings. "I've never seen a document that was more political than that press release released by the ME's office" he said.
He told reporters that Garner had been warned by officers the week before his death to stop selling the cigarettes and denied that race played any role in the confrontation, as the Rev. Al Sharpton and others have said.
"It is a person's behavior that leads to interactions with police, not who they are, what they look like or how much money they have in their pocket," Lynch said.
Garner was black. Pantaleo is white.
Sharpton on Tuesday reiterated his call for a federal investigation into Garner's death.
De Blasio, who stressed that he had "immense respect" for the NYPD, also addressed comments made by the head of the union representing sergeants, who said a supervising officer should oversee every arrest made. That could delay officers' response times to fresh 911 calls, Mullins said.
"Union leader say what union leaders say," de Blasio said when asked about Sergeant's Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins' comments. "I don't let the rhetoric of union leaders get in the way of getting job done."