On July 17, 2014, at approximately 3:30 p.m., Eric Garner was approached by a police officer Justin D’Amico, in front of a beauty supply store at 202 Bay Street in Staten Island. According to bystanders (including a friend of Garner, Ramsey Orta, who recorded the incident on his cell phone) Garner had just broken up a fight, which may have drawn the attention of the police. Officers confronted Garner and accused him of selling single cigarettes without a tax stamp in violation of New York state law. Garner is heard on the video saying the following:
Get away [garbled] for what? Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today. Why would you…? Everyone standing here will tell you I didn’t do nothing. I did not sell nothing. Because every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me [garbled] selling cigarettes. I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone.
When Pantaleo approached Garner from behind and attempted to handcuff him, Garner pulled his arms away, saying, “Don’t touch me, please.
Pantaleo then placed his arm around Garner’s neck and pulled him backward in an attempt to bring him to the ground; in the process, Pantaleo and Garner slammed into a glass window, which did not break. Garner went to his knees and forearms and did not say anything for a few seconds. At that point, three uniformed officers and the two plainclothes officers had surrounded him. After 15 seconds, the video shows Pantaleo removing his arm from around Garner’s neck; Pantaleo then used his hands to push Garner’s face into the sidewalk. Garner is heard saying “I can’t breathe” eleven times while lying face down on the sidewalk. The arrest was supervised by a female African-American NYPD sergeant, Kizzy Adonis, who did not intercede. Adonis was quoted in the original police report as stating, “The perpetrator’s condition did not seem serious and he did not appear to get worse.”
A police sergeant called an ambulance and indicated that Mr. Garner was having trouble breathing, but reportedly added that he “did not appear to be in great distress”. Garner lay motionless, handcuffed, and unresponsive for several minutes before an ambulance arrived, as shown in a second video. After Garner lost consciousness, officers turned him onto his side to ease his breathing. Garner remained lying on the sidewalk for seven minutes. When an ambulance arrived, two medics and two EMTs inside the ambulance did not place Garner on oxygen, administer any emergency medical aid or promptly place him on a stretcher. He was pronounced dead at the hospital one hour later.
A funeral was held for Garner on July 23, 2014, at Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn. At the funeral, Rev. Al Sharpton gave a speech calling for harsher punitive measures to be taken against the officers responsible for the incident.
On July 20, Pantaleo was put on desk duty and stripped of his service handgun and badge. Justin D’Amico was allowed to keep his badge and handgun, but was also placed on desk duty. Four of the EMTs and paramedics who took Garner to the hospital were suspended on July 21. Two of the paramedics were soon returned to their duties, and the remaining two EMTs were doing non-medical work at the hospital.
Medical examiner’s report and autopsy
On August 1, 2014, the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Garner’s death a homicide. According to the medical examiner’s definition, a homicide is a death caused by the intentional actions of another person or persons, which is not necessarily an intentional death or a criminal death.
Garner’s death was also found by the medical examiner to have resulted from “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police”.
Garner’s family hired Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner, to perform an independent autopsy. Baden agreed with the findings of the Medical Examiner’s Office and concluded that Garner’s death was primarily caused by “compression of the neck”. Baden reported finding hemorrhaging around Garner’s neck, which was indicative of neck compression.
On September 29, the grand jury began hearing evidence in the Garner case. On November 21, Pantaleo testified before the grand jury for about two hours. After considering the case for two months, the grand jury decided on December 3 not to indict Pantaleo.