NEW YORK, July 22 (UPI) -- Despite an internal memo from the NYPD claiming that Eric Garner -- the asthmatic 43-year-old father of six who died earlier this week while being taken into police custody -- "did not appear to be in great distress," the officer who placed Garner in a chokehold has been stripped of his badge and gun and placed on desk duty.
Garner had a history of at least 30 prior arrests, mostly for illegally selling untaxed loose cigarettes, and the officers involved say they observed Garner passing off a cigarette prior to placing him in custody, though bystanders have come forward saying Garner wasn't slinging smokes that day and had in fact just broken up a neighborhood fight.
In sharp contrast to video of the incident showing Garner being choked and held down by officers, his face shoved into the concrete as he repeatedly shouts "I can't breathe," the NYPD's internal memo, obtained by the New York Daily News, does not mention the chokehold and claims Garner's "condition did not seem serious" and he "did not appear to be in great distress."
In initial reports, officials claimed Garner suffered a heart attack while being taken into custody, but Garner's sister Elissha Flagg retorted, "He didn't die because he stopped breathing on his own. He died because someone took his breath away." Questioned about what constitutes appropriate force, Policemen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch told ABC:
"At times, when officers are required to make an arrest, they must employ the use of force in order to get compliance from an individual who NYPD policy requires must be rear-cuffed for transport to a precinct. Force, by its very nature, is an ugly thing to witness. Taken out of the context of what is happening, necessary force can be misinterpreted to be excessive by those who are not trained in law enforcement procedures."
But chokeholds have been specifically prohibited by the NYPD since 1993.
"As an individual who's no expert in law enforcement, it looked like a chokehold to me," said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in response to the news, though he urged the public to wait for a full investigation.
Garner had previously filed a lawsuit against the NYPD alleging harassment, claiming an officer performed a cavity search on him in public, "digging his fingers in my rectum in the middle of the street."
Daniel Pantaleo, the officer currently on administrative duty after placing Garner in a chokehold, has a two-year history of being accused of racially motivated and unlawful arrests.
On Policeone.com, a forum that requires members to first verify their employment with a law enforcement agency, anonymous officers express outrage much different from the public's.
"A more accurate headline would be 'Non Compliant Fat Bastard Gets Just Due In Resisting Law Enforcement Officers'" one purported officer posting under the handle "Kopinyc" wrote.
The internal memo states that due to a possible criminal investigation, Pantaleo and three other officers involved in the incident were not interviewed for the preliminary report.
The Reverend Al Sharpton has been vocal about asking NYPD Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio to ensure the investigation in Garner's death is thorough and justice is carried out.
"What bothers me is that the nation watches a man say 'I can't breathe' and the choking continues, and police surround him and none of them even say, 'Wait a minute, stop! He can't breathe!"' Sharpton said.
In the face of a public outcry as to why no attempt to resuscitate Garner was made sooner by any of the officers or emergency workers present, two EMTs and two paramedics involved in the incident have also been placed on modified duty pending the results of the ongoing investigation into Garner's death.
Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, heartbroken over the loss of her son and outraged that no attempts at CPR were made, said she is at least comforted that the recording of the incident shows what transpired, "I don't want him to have died in vain," she said. "As people see, it's just a godsend that we have the video. Just look at the tape."
Warning: Some viewers may find this video disturbing.