NYC police union denies choke hold used in man's death

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York coroner's ruling that a police choke hold caused the death of a Staten Island man was politically motivated, the head of one of the city's police unions said on Tuesday, denying that officers used the outlawed form of restraint to subdue the suspect.

"This was not a choke hold," Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said at a press conference, referring to a July 17 incident in which Eric Garner, who was accused of selling illegal cigarettes, died in a scuffle with police.

"It was a big man who had to be brought to the ground to be placed under arrest by shorter police officers," Lynch said.

Videos recorded on bystanders' phones showed Garner, a 43-year-old black man who was asthmatic and diabetic, being tackled by police outside a Staten Island beauty parlor.

Police said Garner, who weighed 350 pounds (159 kg) and was 6 feet 3 inches tall (1.9 meters), was resisting arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes. Police said Garner had been previously arrested on similar charges.

The New York City medical examiner ruled on Aug. 1 that Garner, the father of six, was killed when a police officer put him in a choke hold.

Choke holds are prohibited by the New York City Police Department. No police officers have been charged in Garner's death.

At the press conference, Lynch criticized the medical examiner's report. “That is a political document not backed up by the ME’s scientific report,” Lynch said.

Lynch said the city's police officers feel they lack the full support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office in January promising to end more aggressive police tactics such as the so-called "stop and frisk" program under which police conducted random pat-downs.

A federal judge ruled that the tactic violated the constitutional rights of black and Latino men, who were most frequently stopped and frisked.

“I think the mayor needs to support New York City police officers unequivocally - say it," Lynch said.

"And unequivocally say resisting arrest hurts everyone: police officers and citizens alike, and it will not be tolerated. The police officers do not feel that they are getting the support they need for the job that they do,” he said.

He sharply criticized the inclusion of Reverend Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, at a City Hall roundtable discussion of Garner's death, during which the civil rights leader suggested race factored into the way Garner was handled by police.

“It is outrageously insulting to all police officers to say that we go out on our streets to choke people of color, as Al Sharpton stated while seated at the table, right next to our mayor at City Hall," Lynch said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Jim Loney, Toni Reinhold)