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Lawyer accused of rape quits chokehold death case

  • Attorney Sanford A. Rubenstein, 70, appeared at a press conference at his offices in New York on Sept. 24. (AP Photo/File, Kathy Willens)

NEW YORK » An attorney accused of raping a woman will no longer represent the family of a man who died after being placed in a police chokehold.

Attorney Sanford Rubenstein doesn’t want the woman’s claims to distract from the Eric Garner case, his law partner said.

The brash, publicity-hungry attorney, who’s known for winning huge settlements in police brutality cases, hasn’t been arrested or charged and denies any criminal conduct. His withdrawal from the chokehold case allows the Garner family to push forward for accountability, said law partner Scott Rynecki, who will replace him.

"The family looks forward to having their day in court," Rynecki said.

Garner’s family has filed through Rubenstein’s law firm a notice of claim to sue the city, the New York Police Department and six officers for $75 million. A spokesman for city Comptroller Scott Stringer said Tuesday that the family’s notice of claim was under review, and the city’s Law Department said it would review the claim thoroughly.

Garner, who was unarmed, was stopped by police on Staten Island on July 17 on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

A video shot by an onlooker shows Garner telling the officers to leave him alone and refusing to be handcuffed.

An officer responded by putting Garner in a chokehold, which is banned under police policy. Garner, who had asthma, is heard gasping, "I can’t breathe." He was pronounced dead later at a hospital.

The city medical examiner found that the police chokehold contributed to Garner’s death. Police have promised to retrain officers on the use of force. A grand jury will determine whether criminal charges are filed.

Garner’s death has sparked protests including an Aug. 23 march on Staten Island that drew thousands of people demanding justice.

Rubenstein’s accuser said the attack on her happened when she went back to his Manhattan apartment following a 60th birthday party last week for the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Sharpton, a civil rights advocate, has championed the Garner family’s pleas for justice.

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