(This story was originally published on July 18, 2014)
A 400-pound asthmatic Staten Island dad died Thursday after a cop put him in a chokehold and other officers appeared to slam his head against the sidewalk, video of the incident shows.
“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Eric Garner, 43, repeatedly screamed after at least five NYPD officers took him down in front of a Tompkinsville beauty supply store when he balked at being handcuffed.
Within moments Garner, a married father of six children with two grandchildren, stopped struggling and appeared to be unconscious as police called paramedics to the scene. An angry crowd gathered, some recording with smartphones.
“When I kissed my husband this morning, I never thought it would be for the last time,” Garner’s wife, Esaw, told the Daily News.
She got no details from police until after she had gone to the hospital to identify his body, she said.
“I saw him with his eyes wide open and I said, ‘Babe, don’t leave me, I need you.’ But he was already gone,” she said.
A family friend searching for her in the hospital ran into detectives from the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Division. The friend put them on the phone with her, the grieving widow said.
She spoke with a Detective Howard, who told her, “I’m sorry for your loss,” she said. He said his office was involved “because there is wrongdoing,” she said.
Police officials said Garner had a history of arrests for selling untaxed cigarettes. Cops said they observed him selling his wares Thursday on Bay St. and moved in for an arrest.
An NYPD spokesman would only say the man “was being placed in custody, went into cardiac arrest and died” at Richmond University Medical Center.
But Esaw Garner and other family members said it was a trumped up claim.
“They’re covering their asses, he was breaking up a fight. They harassed and harassed my husband until they killed him,” she said. Garner’s family said he didn’t have any cigarettes on him or in his car at the time of his death.
She said she pleaded with police at the hospital to tell her what happened, but they brushed her off.
“They wouldn’t tell me anything,” she said.
Officials confirmed that NYPD Internal Affairs officers launched an investigation Thursday night.
Records show Garner was due in court in October on three Staten Island cases, including charges of pot possession and possession or selling untaxed cigarettes.
Esaw Garner said her husband was unable to work because he suffered from a host of ailments, including chronic asthma, diabetes and sleep apnea.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, 65, added, “I want justice.”
Police said Garner was not armed.
The Staten Island resident was sitting in front of Bay Beauty on Bay St. and Victory Blvd. just before 5 p.m. when two plainclothes cops began questioning him about selling untaxed cigarettes, a video obtained by the Daily News shows.
“I didn’t do s---!” the 6-foot-4 Garner, wearing a sweaty T-shirt and khaki shorts, told the officers from the 120th Precinct when they approached him. “I was just minding my own business.
“Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today!” he yelled.
ACQUIRED BY: TOMAS E. GASTON
Ramsey Orta, 22, who shot the video, tried to intervene, telling the cops his friend had just broken up a fight between three men and had not been selling cigarettes.
But when backup uniformed officers arrived, the cops moved in to cuff Garner, the video shows.
“Don’t touch me, please,” he said.
When Garner refused orders to put his hands behind his back, one of the plainclothes cops, wearing a green T-shirt with a yellow No. 99 on the back, got behind him and put him in a chokehold, the footage shows.
A struggle ensued as three uniformed officers joined in on the arrest, knocking the man to the ground.
He screamed, “I can’t breathe!” six times before he went silent and paramedics were called.
“They jumped him and they were choking him. He was foaming at the mouth,” Orta told The News. “And that’s it, he was done. The cops were saying, ‘No, he’s OK, he’s OK.” He wasn’t OK.”
“They were choking him. He kept saying, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe! Get off of me, get off of me!’ and I didn’t hear any more talking after that,” said witness Valencia Griffin, 50, of Staten Island. “He died right there.”
Another witness, who would only give his first name, Douglas, said he’d known Garner for four years.
“He’s a very big man, very intimidating, but he’s just a big teddy bear,” said Douglas, 50. “He’s the nicest guy. I can’t believe what I saw. That’s no way to do an arrest.”
At the video’s end, the cop who had choke-held Garner can be seen staring at the camera that was videotaping him.
“This had nothing to do with the fight, this had something to do with something else,” the cop said, and walked away.
A law enforcement source said the incident was troubling.
“A guy is dead in our custody. That is always a potential problem,” the source said.
With Patrick McCarron and Bill Hutchinson
UPDATE: The Staten Island district attorney is investigating the shocking death of a 400-pound asthmatic dad after a city cop placed him in a chokehold.
Eric Garner, 43, died Thursday after a sidewalk takedown by five NYPD officers making an arrest outside a Tompkinsville beauty parlor.
“My office is working along with the NYPD to do a complete and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Garner's death,” said District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr. in a Friday statement.
TAGS: eric garner, nypd
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