NEW YORK >> A New York City police officer involved in the arrest of a man who died in custody after being placed in an apparent chokehold has been stripped of his gun and badge and placed on desk duty, police said Saturday.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, an eight-year NYPD veteran, and an officer who has been with the force for four years were both taken off the street after the death Thursday of 43-year-old Eric Garner on Staten Island, police said.
The department would not identify the second officer but said he would retain his gun and badge while on desk duty. The reassignment is effective immediately and will remain in effect while Garner’s death is being investigated, police said.
The president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union, called Pantaleo’s reassignment a “completely unwarranted, knee-jerk reaction.”
The decision, Patrick Lynch said in a statement, “effectively pre-judges” the case and denies Pantaleo the “very benefit of a doubt that has long been part of the social contract that allows police officers to face the risks of this difficult and complex job.”
Pantaleo did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
Partial video of the encounter obtained by the New York Daily News shows the 6-foot-3, 350-pound Garner becoming irate and refusing to be handcuffed as officers tried to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a sidewalk.
The video then shows one of the officers placing Garner in what Police Commissioner William Bratton said Friday appeared to be a chokehold. The tactic, which can be fatal, is prohibited by departmental policy.
The department disclosed Pantaleo’s reassignment hours after Garner’s wife, Esaw, burst into tears at a Harlem rally where Rev. Al Sharpton said his death could strain the black community’s relationship with the police department.
“This is going to be a real test to see where policies are in the city now and whether the change that we feel occurred has occurred,” Sharpton said, referring to promises made by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Bratton to improve the relationship between officers and the city’s minority communities. “We are the only ones in the social setup that has to deal with fear of cops and robbers.”
Another rally was held Saturday afternoon on Staten Island, near where Garner died. A funeral is scheduled for Wednesday at the Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn.
In the video of the arrest, Garner, who has been arrested for selling illegal cigarettes numerous times in recent years, says he hasn’t done anything wrong.
“Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today,” Garner shouts. “I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone.”
As four officers bring him down, Garner is heard gasping, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” The video shows one officer using his hands to push Garner’s face into the sidewalk.
Prosecutors and internal affairs detectives are investigating the death of the father of six and grandfather of two; authorities believe he suffered a heart attack. De Blasio has called the circumstances of his death “very troubling.”
More tests are needed to determine the exact cause and manner of Garner’s death, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office said.
The mayor’s commissioner for community affairs attended the rally and stressed the administration’s commitment to strengthening police and community relations.
“We’ve said from the beginning: Police work best when they have the respect from the community,” Marco Carrion said, adding that it’s an ongoing process to try to improve the relationship between the NYPD and various communities.
Garner’s death evoked memories of a similar incident 20 years ago that likewise sparked outrage.
Police officer Francis Livoti was dismissed from the NYPD and convicted by a federal jury of violating the civil rights of a Bronx man who died after Livoti apparently used a chokehold on him in 1994. Livoti has denied he used a chokehold, insisting Anthony Baez died from an asthma attack. The case remains one of the most high-profile allegations of police brutality in city history.
Associated Press writer Rachelle Blidner contributed to this report.