Officer Daniel Pantaleo's claim that he used a legal "takedown maneuver" in the fatal arrest of Eric Garner now has the backing of the NYPD's top surgeon, who apparently determined that no chokehold occurred after reviewing video of the officer dragging Garner to the ground with his arm around his neck.
The surgeon's determination was revealed on Thursday during a pretrial hearing for Pantaleo, ahead of his long-delayed disciplinary trial next month. According to Pantaleo's attorney Stu London, an internal report issued in 2014 by NYPD Chief Surgeon Eli Kleinman found no injuries to Garner's trachea that would indicate he was choked.
"It basically exonerates Officer Pantaleo," London told reporters afterwards. "It indicates that he didn't use a chokehold."
But the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is prosecuting the case, points out that Kleinman reached his determination "without reviewing the autopsy or any other medical reports." In 2014, the NYC Medical Examiner concluded that Garner died of a homicide caused by "compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police" — a finding that prosecutors say "directly contradicts Kleinman's assertions."
By then, the NYPD had for more than two decades banned the use of chokeholds, which they define as "any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air." An independent review of the medical examiner's autopsy confirmed that Garner died of neck compression caused by a chokehold.
The disciplinary trial, which is set to begin on May 13th, will concern whether or not Pantaleo used the banned chokehold against Garner. If convicted, he could potentially lose his job, but would not face criminal charges. Nearly five years after Garner's death, Pantaleo continues to be employed by the NYPD and receives a salary of $119,996.
A spokesperson for the CCRB said they'd move to preclude the police surgeon's testimony during the upcoming trial.
In a statement, Loyda Colon, co-director of the Justice Committee, said: "Our eyes do not lie. The autopsy did not lie. This was a chokehold, plain and simple... As a result, Eric Garner is dead and his mother and family have been forced to fight for answers, accountability, and justice for years while the NYPD, Mayor de Blasio, and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association have done everything in their power to shield the abusive officers involved."