On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died in Staten Island, New York City, after a police officer put him in a chokehold for 15 seconds. The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Garner died partly as a result of the chokehold. New York City Police Department (NYPD) policy prohibits the use of chokeholds, and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), a NYPD police union, said that the officer did not use a chokehold.
NYPD officers approached Garner on suspicion of selling “loosies” (single cigarettes) from packs without tax stamps. After Garner told the police that he was tired of being harassed and that he was not selling cigarettes, the officers went to arrest Garner. When officer Daniel Pantaleo took Garner’s wrist behind his back, Garner swatted his arms away. Pantaleo then put his arm around Garner’s neck and pulled him backwards and down onto the ground. After Pantaleo removed his arm from Garner’s neck, he pushed Garner’s face into the ground while four officers moved to restrain Garner, who repeated “I can’t breathe” eleven times while lying facedown on the sidewalk. After Garner lost consciousness, officers turned him onto his side to ease his breathing. Garner remained lying on the sidewalk for seven minutes while the officers waited for an ambulance to arrive. The officers and EMTs did not perform CPR on Garner at the scene; according to a spokesman for the PBA, this was because they believed that Garner was breathing and that it would be improper to perform CPR on someone who was still breathing. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital approximately one hour later.
Medical examiners concluded that Garner was killed by “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police”,though no damage to his windpipe or neck bones was found. The medical examiner 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.
On December 3, 2014, a grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo. The event stirred public protests and rallies with charges of police brutality. As of December 28, 2014, at least 50 demonstrations had been held nationwide specifically for Garner while hundreds of demonstrations against general police brutality counted Garner as a focal point. The Justice Department announced an independent federal investigation.