NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo is seen waving to officers assigned to protect him as he leaves his Staten Island home on July 2, 2015. (Jeff Bachner for New York Daily News)
It was a police encounter that made headlines around the world: a plainclothes officer caught on cell phone video wrestling Eric Garner, a towering Staten Island dad, to the ground with what appeared to be a chokehold — except it wasn’t, the NYPD’s top doctor has said, according to the cop’s lawyer.
The NYPD’s chief surgeon has determined that Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo didn’t use the prohibited maneuver during his fatal run-in with Garner, who suffered from asthma and whose last cries of “I can’t breathe” became a rallying phrase for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The bombshell announcement came during a hearing Thursday at One Police Plaza, where next month Pantaleo will be tried on administrative charges that he used excessive force — a banned chokehold — when he confronted Garner in Staten Island.
Dramatic video of the fatal July 17, 2014 encounter — first broadcast on the Daily News website — sparked national outraged, with Garner telling cops 11 times that he couldn’t catch his breath.
Pantaleo defense attorney Stu London said NYPD Chief Surgeon Eli Kleinman was asked by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau to review the Garner case file. Kleinman is a specialist in hematology, the study of blood.
London said that after Kleinman watched the video, as well as a second video, apparently from inside a store, and reviewing Garner’s autopsy, he wrote in a report dated Dec. 10, 2014 that Pantaleo never put Garner into a chokehold.
Kleinman concluded there were no injuries associated with a chokehold, including to Garner’s trachea, and that Garner’s poor health — he was obese and suffered from asthma, hypertension and diabetes — contributed to his death, London said.
“It basically exonerates Officer Pantaleo," London, after the hearing, said of the Kleinman report. "It indicates that he didn’t use a chokehold. It indicates that the prior compromised cardiovascular system of [Garner] really is what lead to his demise. And it couldn’t be more positive for Officer Pantaleo.
“I think it’s definitely important because if the Police Department thought his opinion would be not only informative but material and relevant certainly this tribunal should feel the same way,” he said.
The autopsy performed by the city’s Medical Examiner noted Garner’s health, but also ruled that a chokehold was used.
Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, is pictured outside Police Headquarters in Manhattan on Thursday. (Rocco Parascandola/New York Daily News)
Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, pointed that report out when asked about London’s comments — and she also pointed out that a medical expert hired by her family, Dr. Michael Baden, reached the same chokehold conclusion.
“I’m confident,” she said.
Pantaleo grappled with Garner, 43, in the midst of arresting him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes in Tompkinsville.
A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in Garner’s death.
The Department of Justice has until July 17 to bring a civil rights case against Pantaleo. It has already reached a decision but has yet to publicize it.
Pantaleo’s department trial is set for May 13 before NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado.