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New York choke hold death leads police to review training procedures

By Deborah E. Bloom, Jareen Imam and Rande Iaboni, CNN
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NYPD commissioner orders review of training procedures after choke hold death
  • Re-training will specifically focus on use of force
  • Two EMTs, two paramedics suspended without pay, medical center official says
  • Officer arresting man grabbed him in a choke hold; man died en route to hospital

(CNN) -- New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton ordered an extensive review of the NYPD's training procedures after the death of Eric Garner, the man who was held in a choke hold and died while police attempted to arrest him, Bratton announced at a press conference Tuesday.

After a two-hour meeting with NYPD Training Commissioner Ben Tucker on Tuesday morning, Bratton ordered a "top to bottom review of all the training that this department provides to its personnel, specifically focusing on force, how do we train our officers for a takedown, how do we train them to use the various levels of force that they're authorized to use."

"I would anticipate that coming out of this effort that there will be a re-training of every member of the New York City Police Department in the weeks, months and potential years ahead," Bratton said.

Bratton also said a group of officers will go to the Los Angeles Police Department next week for further training.

Bratton led the LAPD from 2002 to 2009 when it went through a "phenomenal review" of its force policies under the guidance of a federal judge.

"They probably have the most contemporary policies on use of force training that I seek to take advantage of," Bratton said.

In addition, Bratton said he met with the assistant director for the FBI Tuesday morning to discuss their monitoring of the incident.

Bratton also said that based on his experience with similar matters he would not be surprised if the U.S. attorney decided to open a civil rights violation investigation.

A vigil was held for Garner on Tuesday evening and the NYPD was to assist with the funeral on Wednesday morning in Brooklyn.

Confronted by police trying to arrest him for allegedly selling illegal cigarettes, Garner raised both hands in the air and, with passive defiance, told the officers not to touch him. Seconds later, a video shows the officer behind him grab the 350-pound man in a choke hold and pull him to the sidewalk, rolling him onto his stomach.

"I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" Garner said repeatedly, his cries muffled into the pavement.

The video of the July 17 skirmish shows the Staten Island man lying on the ground motionless after the incident. An asthmatic, Garner was later declared dead at a nearby hospital, according to CNN affiliate WCBS. Police said he suffered a heart attack and died en route to the hospital.

"This is a terrible tragedy that occurred. ... A terrible tragedy that no family should have to experience," said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, calling the video of the incident "very troubling."

Police said that 43-year-old Garner, a father of six, had a lengthy criminal history, including more than 30 arrests, and had been previously arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes in May.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is seen on the video choking Garner, was put on modified assignment and stripped of his badge and gun as the New York Police Department continues to investigate the incident, WCBS reported. The choke hold tactic is prohibited by the NYPD.

Opinion: What led to choke hold death

Two EMTs and two paramedics have been suspended without pay, Erika Hellstrom, vice president of development at Richmond University Medical Center, said in an e-mail.

In a statement, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch called Pantaleo's reassignment "a completely unwarranted, kneejerk reaction for political reasons." He said the move "effectively pre-judges this case and denies the officer 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."

On July 19, Garner's friends and family rallied alongside the Rev. Al Sharpton in Upper Manhattan, demanding a full investigation into Garner's death, according to WCBS.

Garner's wife was set to speak at the rally but found herself too emotional, WCBS reported.

New York photographer Joel Graham was at the demonstration, which lasted for two hours. He shared his photographs with CNN iReport, and said he captured them while walking alongside protesters who traveled from New Brighton Church to the store where the choke hold incident took place.

"This crowd was composed of good, well-meaning people who understood that peace was the only option and were adamant that things remain calm over Eric's death. I have been to protests that have been violent, but this crowd reflected who Eric was," he said.

Graham, an area resident, had a familiar relationship with Garner. "I am an urban art photographer, and I will talk to everyone on the streets of New York City," he said, explaining that he would occasionally chat with Garner while taking photos near the Staten Island Ferry.

"I had empathy for Eric and how he must have felt trying to catch his breath, and sympathy for the family. This was a heartfelt emotional protest because everyone loved Eric," he said.

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CNN's Susan Candiotti and Elizabeth Landers contributed to this report.

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