Eric Garner’s sister became hysterical and fled an NYPD courtroom on Monday as video of her brother’s fatal arrest nearly five years ago played during the first day of the departmental trial for Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
Ellisha Garner’s sobs turned to cries and then wails of anguish when she heard the first of Garner’s repeated shouts of “I can’t breathe!” as cops held him down on a Staten Island sidewalk on July 17, 2014.
Moments earlier, Garner’s mom, Gwen Carr, also left the courtroom courtroom at One Police Plaza in tears with the Rev. Al Sharpton when she saw Pantaleo wrap an arm around her son’s neck in the video.
Pantaleo — who avoided criminal charges, but has been on desk duty since the incident — is accused of violating departmental policy by using a banned chokehold while arresting Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.
If convicted by NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, Pantaleo, 33, could be fired by Commissioner James O’Neill.
The first witness to testify was Ramsey Orta, who shot the now infamous cellphone video — and revealed he sold it to the Daily News for $2,000 up-front and$15,000 to $20,000 in royalties.
Orta, who appeared by video because he’s serving a four-year prison sentence for drug and weapon possession, said he’d been a friend of Garner’s for five years and didn’t see him selling any “loosies” on the day of his death.
But Orta admitted on cross-examination that Pantaleo’s arm wasn’t around Garner’s neck during his exclamations of “I can’t breathe!”
His testimony came after Civilian Complaint Review Board prosecutor Jonathan Fogel began his opening statement by quoting Garner’s desperate pleas — and saying those words “tell you who caused his death.”
Fogel also said Pantaleo had no reason to arrest Garner, 43.
“He was given a death sentence over a cigarette. He wasn’t selling anything,” Fogel said.
Defense lawyer Stuart London insisted that Pantaleo was “merely doing his job” and applied a department-approved “seat-belt hold” to keep them both from crashing through a glass storefront.
London blamed Garner’s death on his asthma and “morbidly obese” weight of nearly 400 pounds.
“If he was put in a bear hug, it would have been the same outcome,” London said.
A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in December 2014, leading then-US Attorney General Eric Holder to announce that the Justice Department would “investigate potential federal civil rights violations.”
The NYPD delayed disciplinary proceedings pending the federal probe, but last year said it was “moving ahead” due to the “extraordinary passage of time since the incident without a final decision on the US DOJ’s criminal investigation.”