Staten Island district attorneys scolded a key grand jury witness in the death of Eric Garner for calling the chokehold Officer Daniel Pantaleo used on Garner a chokehold, and for presuming that Garner had no pulse as he lay on the ground unconscious for several minutes, unattended to by emergency medical responders, according to a long investigative report by the New York Times.
Witness Taisha Allen, an acquaintance of Garner's, shot the video showing police, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians milling around for several minutes without providing first aid to Garner. She has previously expressed disbelief about the Richmond County grand jury's decision not to indict Pantaleo, but the grand jury records remain secret and the latest report provides new details about how she said prosecutors sought to downplay the negligence of officers and medical responders on the scene:
Several times during her testimony, which is kept secret under grand jury rules, Ms. Allen said prosecutors urged her to watch her words. When she said Mr. Garner did not appear to have a pulse, a prosecutor stepped in. "Don't say it like that," she recalled the prosecutor saying. "You're only assuming he didn't have a pulse."
A prosecutor also interjected when she told jurors how Mr. Garner was taken to the ground. "I said they put him in a chokehold," Ms. Allen recalled saying. "'Well, you can't say they put him in a chokehold,'" she said a prosecutor responded.
The account is one of many jarring details included in the Times article, published 11 months after Garner's death outside a beauty supply store in Tompkinsville. Other takeaways include the following:
- Garner had been arrested twice for selling untaxed cigarettes in 2014 near the same spot as the fatal confrontation. Weeks before, he had argued with officers to leave him alone, and they allowed him to go free without being frisked.
- The deployment of Pantaleo and Officer Justin Damico was prompted by the request of a lieutenant who had driven past a group of men on Bay Street and "recognized them as a source of chronic problems in the area."
- The internal report prepared by supervising officers at the scene, as previously reported, omitted mention of the chokehold, and one sergeant, Dhanan Saminath, said Garner "did not appear to be in great distress." Allen told the Times that the report misrepresents what she told investigators, and an anonymous former high-ranking cop said the cover-up almost worked: "We didn't know anything about a chokehold or hands to the neck until the video came out."
- The block where Garner died is a loose-cigarette and drug-selling hot-spot and a focal point of broken-windows enforcement. By last July, it had been the site of "at least 98 arrests, 100 criminal court summonses, 646 calls to 911 and nine complaints to 311."
- Bay Street landlord Gjafer Gjeshbitraj's 311 call that spring, following a fight with a drug dealer, made its way to high-level police meetings and prompted a surge in arrests. Loosie sales persist to this day, but he no longer calls the city because, he said, "The last time I called the cops, someone got choked to death."
- Pantaleo usually worked as a plainclothes cop focused on violent crime. "We can do this the easy way or the hard way," Officer Damico told Garner upon rolling up on him, according to transcript of a longer version of the infamous chokehold video. The cops tried to grab him twice, and he said, "Don't touch me, please don't touch me." Pantaleo told the grand jury he grabbed Garner's neck because he was afraid of the two of them breaking the plate-glass window of the beauty store in the struggle.
- Bay Beauty Supply manager Rodney Lee said he heard Sgt. Kizzy Adonis tell Panteleo, "Let up, you got him already," as Panteleo and others pressed Garner's prone body into the ground. Ramsey Orta, who shot the chokehold video, remembered a similar statement.
- The officers who radioed for an ambulance did so using a code that indicated the situation was a low priority. The medical responders who showed up didn't know Garner had been choked, or that police were involved, and as Allen's video shows, they milled around for minutes without putting him on a stretcher or providing him with oxygen. Twelve minutes after the first call, the medical workers upgraded the urgency of the situation because they determined Garner's heart had stopped.
- Garner's mother is still trying to save up enough money for a headstone to mark his grave.