Mayor de Blasio on Tuesday defended a medical examiner's ruling that a man was killed by neck compressions caused by a police officer's apparent chokehold, while the powerful police union representing rank-and-file officers called the death report "political."
Speaking at a news conference minutes after Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch denied that NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo used a chokehold while attempting to arrest Eric Garner on July 17, de Blasio told reporters that the city's medical examiner's office was "the gold standard in this country" for medical science.
Last week, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, saying it was caused by neck compressions from a chokehold and "the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police." Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors in the death, the medical examiner said.
Prosecutors are still investigating. Pantaleo has been stripped of his gun and badge. Partial video of the arrest shows that Garner, 43, who was being arrested on Staten Island for selling untaxed single cigarettes, told the officers taking him into custody that he was being harassed.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 350-pound man then shook his arm free from an officer's grasp before he was placed into the chokehold and brought to the ground.
In the video, he can be heard complaining that he can't breathe.
Both the police commissioner and the mayor have said it appears a chokehold was used. Chokeholds are banned under NYPD policy.
On Tuesday, Lynch disputed the findings, telling reporters that Garner had been warned by officers the week before his death to stop selling cigarettes.
He denied allegations made by the Rev. Al Sharpton and others that race played any role in the confrontation between Garner, who is black, and Pantaleo, who is white.
"It is a person's behavior that leads to interactions with police, not who they are, what they look like or how much money they have in their pocket," Lynch said.
De Blasio, who stressed that he had "immense respect" for the NYPD, also addressed comments made by the head of the union representing sergeants, who said a supervising officer should oversee every arrest made. That could slow down officers' response times to fresh 911 calls, the mayor said.
"Union leaders say what union leaders say," de Blasio said. "I don't let the rhetoric of union leaders get in the way of getting job done."
Meanwhile, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a police watchdog agency, is reexamining all complaints of illegal chokeholds used by police officers over the past five years.
There were about 1,000 chokehold allegations in that period, including 608 that were not investigated, according to the board's chairman, Richard Emery.