New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is coming under increased pressure from the New York Police Department, as the head of the police officers’ union, Patrick Lynch, blasted the medical examiner’s ruling that Eric Garner’s death was a homicide caused by a chokehold, calling it “political.”
Meanwhile, Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins made a thinly veiled threat that his members might slow their response times because of the city’s response to the Garner case.
“This is not a chokehold; a chokehold is a completely opposite tactic,” Mullins said Tuesday. Though the NYPD banned chokeholds 20 years ago, officers continue to use them.
Then Mullins addressed his members in what sounded like a threat of a slowdown: “We want you to do your job. We want you to follow the rule book the way it’s written. And if there’s a delay in getting to the next place, so be it.”
But de Blasio seemed unfazed by the threat.
“I’ve long since learned to listen respectfully to the words of union leaders,” the mayor said at a news conference Tuesday. “What I’m concerned about are the everyday folks who are there to do their jobs. If some union leaders want to speak out, I’ve heard plenty from union leaders over the years. But the rank and file are here to do their job and they will do their job.”
While early stories had suggested that Garner died at the hospital of a heart attack and police supporters claimed that his weight was the main reason for his death, the medical examiner’s office was clear, finding “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest, and prone positioning during physical restraint by police” killed Garner — though the office did add that Garner’s obesity, diabetes, sleep apnea and asthma were contributing conditions to his death.
In ruling that the manner of death was homicide, the medical examiner is not offering any conclusions about whether Officer Daniel Pantaleo committed a crime when he put the 43-year-old Garner in a chokehold. The office is merely stating that Garner died at the hands of another person or persons.
“I’ve never seen a document that was more political than that press release released by the ME’s office,” Lynch said, telling reporters that Garner had been warned by officers the week before his death to stop selling loose cigarettes — though witnesses claimed Garner had not been selling cigarettes when the cops began to harass him.
Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said race did not play any role in the confrontation, as many have alleged, including the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“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.
After Lynch said Pantaleo had not used a chokehold on Garner, despite the video evidence, de Blasio defended the city medical examiner’s office. He said the city’s medical examiner’s office is the “gold standard in this country.”
Both de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton have said it appears a chokehold was used.
In a related development, Richard Emery, the new chairman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the police watchdog agency, said the board will re-examine all complaints of illegal chokeholds used by police officers over the past five years. He said there were about 1,000 complaints about chokeholds in that period, and 608 were not investigated.
“We hope we can better advise the police department to enforce the patrol guide standard,” he said.