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Bad Cop Blotter

NYPD and EMS Workers Failed to Help Eric Garner After Cop Choked Him

By now, you’ve probably heard something about the death of Eric Garner on Thursday in Staten Island, New York City. Turns out EMT workers didn't even try to help him in the minutes after he was choked.

Activists angry at NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton calling for his resignation Monday. Photo by Alex Ellefson

By now, you’ve probably heard something about the death of Eric Garner on Thursday in Staten Island, New York City. You may have even seen it on video, which horribly (and luckily) was captured by Ramsey Orta, a bystander at the scene. The New York Police Department (NYPD) claims that Garner, an asthmatic father of six, was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes—aka “Lucys”—as he allegedly had done in the past. Garner denied this on video, and Orta said while filming that the man was hassled for breaking up a fight and nothing more.


Regardless, Garner was dead an hour after five cops threw him to the ground as he resisted (but, it’s worth noting, did not fight back). To get him down, Officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold, which is against NYPD protocol (and has been for two decades). Pantaleo, who has been sued three times in two years for racial bias in arrests, had his badge and gun taken away and was re-assigned to desk duty. Likewise, Officer Justin Damico has been placed on desk duty pending investigation, though he was allowed to keep his badge and gun.

No other officers are under investigation—though four Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers are on desk duty, and not permitted to respond to 911 calls, for seemingly failing to render aid to 43-year-old Garner as he lay unconscious on the sidewalk. A second video shows CPR was not performed by the EMS workers. It does, however, show nearly four minutes of the cops gently shaking Garner as he lies unmoving on the ground. They search his pockets, but do not seem particularly concerned that their suspect hasn’t moved in minutes. (Cops know CPR, and are expected to perform it if necessary, but previous punishment for failure to do so has been very light indeed.) Once Garner is loaded onto a stretcher, a bystander asks, “Why does nobody do CPR?” and an NYPD officer responds, “Because he’s breathing.” He may be breathing, but Garner also appears entirely unresponsive on camera.


Garner’s last words were “I can’t breathe,” which is awful enough. His penultimate words were almost more disturbing, though, because they consisted of a man committing the fatal error of standing up for himself.

It’s too dangerous to stand up to the police, particularly for a black male in a place like New York City. The officers who brought him down likely didn’t intend to kill Garner. Certainly they will point to him being overweight and asthmatic as the reasons he didn’t survive his interactions with those protecting and serving him. Qualified immunity will underline the point, which is not so much that police did wrong, as that it’s bad to resist them. And it is. When you see Garner yell, "I was just minding my own business. Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today!" you want to tell him: no, no, no, just give in! Obey police orders, because your life is forfeit if you don’t.

More bad cops of the week:

-There is something rotten in the state of Florida prisons: Two years ago, guards scalded 50-year-old Darren Rainey in the Dade (near Miami) Correctional Institution’s psych showers while laughing, then left him for two hours. When they came back, Rainey’s skin was sliding off, and he was dead. Two of the guards involved, Cornelius Thompson and Roland Clarke, were later promoted, and remained on duty until last year when Thompson left his job. Clarke finally resigned last week, but other guards who were nearby remain employed at the prison. On July 17, the warden for the prison was dismissed, the first punishment levied for this behavior. Police have been looking into Rainey’s death, but they didn’t keep the 911 call tape because they didn’t suspect anyone had been deliberately burned to death in the showers. Rainey was reportedly mentally ill and was serving two years for drug possession, so literally everything about this story is the worst fucking thing I have ever read. But wait—as the heroic Miami-Herald reporters have found, there is more terrible stuff happening in Florida prisons. And it’s just as bad.


-The Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced his office’s plan to stop prosecuting low-level first-time marijuana possession—albeit with exceptions—in a July 8 memo. However, the NYPD officially “will continue to enforce the law uniformly throughout all five boroughs of the city,” thereby making sure it still has plenty of excuse to keep harassing (mostly) males of color.

-Once again, resisting police or trying to get away from them shouldn’t result in them beating you up. And this goes double for teenage girls who didn’t do a damn thing except try to run away. On Tuesday night in Clairton, Pennsylvania, a 17-year-old girl was beaten and arrested by police for trying to run away from officers, and then resisting their attempts to handcuff her after they threw her on the ground. Merceedez Wright told an ABC affiliate that she thought she’d be okay because she’s not a boy, and also that she was simply afraid of the cops when they tried to detain her because it was a few minutes after curfew. Surveillance video shows only a piece of the confrontation, and it does show Wright getting her hand free, trying, she says, to protect herself with her hands because police were hurting her. She ended up in the hospital with unspecified injuries, but the news showed her in a neck brace.

-On Friday, John McNesby, the head of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, accused reporters for the Philadelphia Daily News of using paid, anonymous informants for their Pulitzer Prize-winning 2009 series on corruption in the local narcotics task force. One officer was fired in the wake of the articles, and another is still under investigation, so this seems like a convenient way of raising hell from McNesby. Not to mention it could have a major chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of city reporters.


-On Wednesday, Connecticut state trooper AJ Hunstman accepted a plea deal that may give him 16 months in prison for stealing a gold crucifix and $3700 off of a man dying in a car accident, an act that was captured on the trooper’s dashcam. Huntsman was the first responder to the scene in September, 2012, and later lied to the victim’s father about there being cash at the crash site. Skin-crawlingly reported by the news, “Huntsman walked out of the courtroom with a big smile on his face following the hearing.” Please keep this man away from any and all jobs that involve human beings once he gets out of prison. Thanks.

-Last week, Buzzfeed’s Benny Johnson wrote an amusing tribute to the brutalist horrors of DC government buildings. Then he wrote a follow-up mentioning that he was bothered by police or guards no less than six times in his efforts to photograph these seven ugly-ass buildings. One guard simply said, “You are suspicious, and we are in a post-9/11 world,” which is exactly what you’d assume they’d say, but maybe mix it up a little? All in all, your tax dollars might pay for these horrible eyesores, but guards can’t be too careful if you actually want to document them.

-30 San Diego strippers from two different clubs sued the city and the chief of police this week over a March 6 compliance check on the strip joints. Cops say it was protocol, and they were checking tattoos and other identification to make sure dancers matched IDs, but the women say their Fourth Amendment rights, among others, were violated when they were held, searched, and photographed for hours. One dancer said that the camera flash combined with her skimpy outfit basically meant she was being photographed nude without consent. One of the clubs has had its license revoked, and the women’s attorney alleges that’s retaliation for the dancers’ lawsuit.

-USA Today found that 91 percent of the subjects of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’s (ATF) controversial stings were minorities, so that’s bodes even less well for the constantly-fucking-up agency than usual.

-There is no Good Cop of the Week. I’m sure some cop somewhere did something positive, but I’m taking a week off in honor of Eric Garner and Darren Rainey. Try harder next week, law enforcement. Or maybe stop trying altogether.

Follow Lucy Steigerwald on Twitter.