Expedited Autopsy Rules Garner Death a Homicide

NEW YORK (AP) -

A medical examiner ruled Friday that a police officer’s chokehold caused the death of a man whose videotaped arrest and final pleas of “I can’t breathe!” sparked outrage and led to the overhaul of use-of-force training for the nation’s largest police department.

Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors in the death of Eric Garner, a black man whose confrontation with a white police officer has prompted calls by black leaders for federal prosecution.

The finding increases the likelihood that the case will be presented to a grand jury to determine whether Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who placed Garner in the chokehold, or any other officers involved in the confrontation will face criminal charges.

Mayor Bill de Blasio extended his sympathies to Garner’s family in a statement and pledged to continue repairing the relationship between minority communities and the NYPD. “I’ve said that we would make change, and we will,” he said.

Chokeholds are prohibited by the NYPD, but partial video of the July 17 confrontation shows an officer placing a chokehold on Garner, who was being arrested on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes. Garner then apparently loses consciousness.

A spokesman for Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said prosecutors were still investigating the death and awaited a full autopsy report and death certificate from the medical examiner. He will determine whether to empanel a grand jury and charge officers in Garner’s death.

Federal officials are monitoring the investigation, said a spokeswoman for Department of Justice, who under Attorney General Eric Holder has made civil rights a central issue.

The president of the largest police union, Patrick Lynch, expressed his sympathies to the family but noted Garner “was a man with serious health problems.”

“We believe, however, that if he had not resisted the lawful order of the police officers placing him under arrest, this tragedy would not have occurred,” he said.

In related news, the man who shot the video of Garner’s fatal chokehold was arrested Saturday night and charged for criminal possession of a gun. Ramsey Orta, 22, is currently in a hospital being treated for a medical condition.