New York City

NYPD Cop Says He Thought Eric Garner Was Faking ‘I Can't Breathe'

What to Know

  • NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo is on department trial in the July 2014 death of Eric Garner; he's accused of using a banned chokehold
  • Medical examiner's office ruled Garner's death a homicide, citing the chokehold; his dying words, 'I can't breathe,' became a rallying cry
  • Pantaleo's attorney denies the officer used a chokehold; he says the cop used an approved police technique called a "seat belt move"

One of the officers who responded to the Eric Garner arrest scene in July 2014 says he thought the 43-year-old father, seen on widely circulated video gasping "I can't breathe," was faking it.

Officer William Meems made the comments Tuesday under cross examination at the NYPD trial of fellow officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is accused of administering a chokehold that led to Garner's death. A prosecutor for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is prosecuting the case, asked, "You believe he was feigning unconsciousness?"

"I believed that was a possibility, yes," Meems answered. He also described Garner as "not very compliant" with the officers trying to handcuff him. 

Pantaleo's partner, Justin D'amico, took the stand next, testifying that he and Pantaleo waited about nine minutes before trying to arrest Garner because he was "irate." He also testified that Garner twice tried to smack his hand away.

Under cross examination, D'amico acknowledged he finished filling out Garner's arrest form even after the man was dead -- and that form charged Garner with a felony amount of cigarette sales. Garner had very few cigarettes on him when he was stopped that day, prosecutors have said.

Video showed Pantaleo put an arm around Garner's neck in an apparent chokehold; the officer's attorney, though, said in opening statements that the cop's arm was not around Garner's neck when he said "I can't breathe." 

Garner died in an ambulance on the way to the ho's death was ruled a homicide, with the medical examiner listing a chokehold as the cause of his death. 

The defense has argued that Pantaleo did not use a chokehold, which is banned under NYPD policy, but an approved tactic called a "seat-belt hold" in an attempt to take Garner down. Defense lawyer Stuart London has also cited Garner's health -- hypertension, obesity, an enlarged heart -- as reasons for his death. While the medical examiner listed those as contributing factors, the autopsy report concluded that those issues did not cause Garner to die.

Pantaleo is not facing criminal charges; a grand jury opted not to indict him, prompting a series of national protests and marches. He could lose vacation days or be fired depending on the outcome of the disciplinary trial. 

Garner's family received $5.9 million from the city in 2015 to settle a wrongful death claim. Federal prosecutors have until July to file civil rights charges against Pantaleo.

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