After the chief medical examiner of New York City officially declared Eric Garner's death a homicide, police union chief Patrick Lynch vehemently defended the New York Police Department, holding a press conference on Tuesday to deny the findings and the video evidence of Garner's assault by NYPD officers.
"It was not a chokehold," Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the largest NYPD labor union, told reporters at the assocation's headquarters. "It was bringing a person to the ground the way we're trained to do to place him under arrest."
Garner died in police custody on July 17 after a group of NYPD officers, led by Daniel Pantaleo, restrained him during an arrest by putting him in a chokehold, dragging him to the ground, and slamming his chest and head onto the concrete. The assault was captured on video.
The chokehold is an illegal move that has been banned by the police department since 1993. Garner, who was unarmed, was being placed under arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on the street, an example of the NYPD's tactic of focusing on petty misdemeanors as a method to stop larger crimes. The so-called "broken windows" policy has been highly criticized in the past.
According to the autopsy, Garner died from compression of his neck and chest, which was particularly harmful due to Garner's asthma. The video shows Garner repeating, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe" as he is pulled to the ground. Garner's large size and hypertensive cardiovascular disease also contributed to his death, the report stated.
Lynch, who is not a doctor, rejected the medical findings by claiming that they were "political."
"I've never seen a document that was more political than that press release released by the [medical examiner's] office," Lynch said. "We spoke with experts who had never seen it released the way it was, without the facts behind it, without the Medical Examiner's report and in parentheses, 'Chokehold.' That's not a medical term."
Lynch also criticized the bystander who recorded the video, Ramsey Orta, by claiming that taping the NYPD's assault was "demonizing the good work of police officers." He did not elaborate on how Garner's violent arrest and subsequent death constituted good police work. However, videotaping police encounters is protected by the First Amendment.
Rev. Al Sharpton, who held a press conference in response to Lynch's recent statements, called his criticism of Orta "the sickest logic that I ever heard."
"If you are a policeman, you are trained to deal with crime. You are not trained to commit a crime," Sharpton said.
Orta was arrested on Saturday for allegedly trying to hand off a stolen gun to a 17-year-old girl as he exited the Hotel Richmond in Staten Island. He said on Tuesday he is "100 percent sure" he was arrested in a set-up as retaliation for documenting Garner's death. His charges are based on statements from police who say they were already staking out the hotel, notorious for drug activity, and happened to see Orta hide the gun in his companion's waistband as he exited. Orta's wife, Chrissie Ortiz, was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly assaulting a woman who criticized her husband, although charges are pending.
Pantaleo, who was put on restricted duty and had his gun and badge taken away during the department's internal investigation, has nonetheless not been charged with a crime.