The family of a Staten Island man who died after he was allegedly placed in a chokehold by a New York police officer spoke publicly for the first time on Saturday, while the NYPD launched an investigation into a separate video that appeared to show an officer stomping on a suspect's head.
With the Rev. Al Sharpton at her side, Esaw Garner said her husband, Eric, was a peaceful man who was often harassed by NYPD officers in the Staten Island neighborhood where he died.
Officers were attempting to arrest Garner for the alleged sale of untaxed cigarettes earlier this month when he was involved in a clash with Officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin D'Amico. Amateur videos of the incident appeared to show Pantaleo place Garner in a chokehold, and the 43-year-old died a short time later.
“My husband was not a violent man, not in any way, shape, form or fashion," Esaw Garner said. “He was a quiet man, but he’s making a lot of noise now.”
The Garner family spoke at a live broadcast of Sharpton's weekly address alongside the National Action Network.
Pantaleo was placed on modified duty, meaning his gun and badge were taken away. D'Amico remains on desk duty.
The city medical examiner's office has yet to determine how Garner died. Friends say he had chronic asthma, and Garner can be heard on the videos repeatedly telling the officers, "I can't breathe," as they hold him on the ground.
Garner's death has been a source of controversy within the NYPD. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said earlier this week that the FBI may review the incident, and he also announced a plan to send officers to meet with Los Angeles Police Department officials to develop new training initiatives.
Sharpton and Garner's family have also met with the U.S. attorney's office, claiming his civil rights were violated, while others have questioned why the officers acted so aggressively while trying to detain Garner for a relatively minor crime.
“I begged him every single day, every day, I said, 'Babe, please don’t let them cops kill you.' Every single day. He said, 'Babe I’m good.' Last text I got from him was 'I’m good,' and that was a half an hour before they took his life,” Esaw Garner said. “They harassed him. When we went to the supermarket, they harassed him.”
As the Garner controversy continued to brew, city officials also announced a probe into a video that appeared to show an officer stomping on a Brooklyn man's head during an arrest earlier this week.
In the two-minute video, obtained by the New York Daily News, an officer can be seen walking away from a man who is being pinned down by three other officers, then turning back to drive his boot toward the suspect's head. The alleged blow is obscured by several people crowding around the scene.
Sgt. Carlos Nieves, an NYPD spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times that Officer Joel Edouard was also placed on "modified duty" as the agency investigates the incident.
Edouard and several other officers saw 32-year-old Jahmiel Cuffee rolling a marijuana cigarette on Malcolm X Boulevard in Brooklyn on Wednesday, Nieves said. When offiicers approached him, Cuffee allegedly hid the joint.
“The suspect stood up, and when the officers took the handcuffs out to place him under arrest, the suspect began to resist," Nieves said.
Cuffee was charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and tampering with physical evidence, according to Nieves.
Patrick Lynch, president of the city's Patrolmen's Benevolent Assn., issued a statement Saturday warning against passing judgment on officers based on amateur YouTube clips.
“Videotapes never present all of the facts in a situation. They never capture the criminal act or offense that brings police action to the scene," he said in the statement. "They present an isolated period of a police interaction but never the entire scenario."
In Harlem, Garner's mother stood beside Sharpton and said any investigation into the use of chokeholds should go far beyond her son's death.
“We want justice for my son, we want justice for your son, your daughter," Gwen Carr said. "We don’t want this to happen. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
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