Eric Garner’s Death Was a Homicide, But He Was Not Murdered

Eric Garner's death was a homicide


A Grand Jury returned a No True Bill in a case where a man was allegedly choked to death while being arrested by a NYPD officer. The incident captured on a cellphone video clearly shows the officer’s arm around the suspect’s neck. The suspect, Eric Garner, was a very large man, especially in comparison to the officer who, and this is a guess based on photo and video images, weighed half of what Garner weighed. The officer was also much shorter than the 6′-5″ suspect.

In a situation where a suspect resists arrest, even for very minor crimes (a crime is a crime, no matter how big or how small), and the officer(s) are clearly at the disadvantage by size and strength, it is sometimes necessary to even the odds by utilizing arrest tactics other than a bare-handed, “come with me” approach. Still, the idea is to make the arrest without harm to the suspect, or to the arresting officer(s). In short, when the time comes to arrest someone police absolutely must take that suspect into custody, no matter how desperately the bad guy wants to remain free.

I addressed this in an earlier post immediately after the incident. “When someone uses force to resist an arrest, officers must then apply the amount of force necessary to gain control of the person. Normally, that means the officers must use a greater force than that used by the suspect. If not, the combative suspects would always win the battle to run off and continue their criminal activity.”

“Police officers receive a fair amount of training in the areas of defensive tactics and arrest techniques. They’re taught how to handcuff properly, how to utilize various compliance tactics, and how best to defend themselves against an attack. The object is always to gain control and cuff the suspect’s hands behind the back, with everyone involved remaining injury free, if possible. Again, though, when a suspect resists arrest officers must do what it takes to bring the situation to a quick resolution. The longer it goes on the more chance of injury.”

But to re-hash the facts of the Garner case is not the purpose of this article. Instead, I’ve posted this information to provide a few facts about homicides, murders, and the use of chokeholds. Hopefully, this piece will bring a bit of understanding to those who simply do not know or understand how this all works. So here you go, starting with the chokehold.

A chokehold is a technique that pinches off the blood supply to the brain resulting in unconsciousness, and if held too long, death. But it does not affect the airway. In the video of the NYPD incident, it does not appear that the officer did anything to compromise the suspect’s airway. However, Garner was clearly heard a few times saying, “I can’t breathe.” The tone of his voice sounded as if he was indeed in distress. Again, a properly applied chokehold does not stop airflow. If Garner could speak then he was getting some oxygen, even though it appeared that he was in respiratory  distress.

By the way, chokeholds are NOT illegal. They’re used every single day in martial arts competitions and matches. Our 12-year-old grandson and his MMA and grappling peers have won numerous championships, titles, and awards by choking out their competitors. Of course, they receive proper training and experience as to how to properly apply the techniques. We’ll dig a bit deeper into the choke further down in the article. First, let’s address the autopsy report. What actually caused the death of Eric Garner?

The NYC medical examiner found that Garner died as a result of compression to the neck combined with compression to the chest while in a prone position (the piling-on of officers, which was the more-likely cause of Garner’s breathing troubles). Health issues also were contributing factors.

Finally, the M.E. ruled Garner’s death was a homicide. Please note that the report stated homicide, not murder. Because there’s a difference, and that difference can be huge, as I posted yesterday on my Facebook page.

New Picture

A homicide is any killing of one person by another, and it can be a legal act in certain circumstances—self defense or in defense of others, homicide by misfortune (an accident), state or federal executions, etc.

Homicide per infortunium, for example, is an accidental homicide where a person performing a legal act without any intention of harm, accidentally kills another. This is a legally excusable homicide. It is not a crime. Sad, heartbreaking, and unfortunate, yes. But not a crime.

Murder is the UNLAWFUL killing of a human being by another with MALICE aforethought. Murder is homicide with extreme indifference to human life.

Grand Juries are charged with deciding whether or not probable cause of a crime exists. If so, they hand down an indictment and the person then stands trial for the crime he/she is accused of committing.

If it is determined that no crime was committed the Grand Jury issues a No True Bill and that’s the end of it.

We, in this country, do not have the option of tossing people in prison simply because we’re angry over something they did, even we firmly believe that something was wrong.

In other words/simpler terms, no crime = no indictment. And that’s true in ALL cases, not just the ones featured in the media.

Earlier in this piece I wrote that chokeholds are not illegal, and they’re not. However, police departments typically prohibit their use because of the risk of injury or death. Again, with proper training a chokehold is an extremely effective tool. After all, 12-year-old martial artists use the technique safely…

Anyway, the NYPD bans the use of “chokeholds.” But it is interesting to see how they define the term. Pay close attention to the line below that refers to throat, windpipe, hinder breathing, etc. In no place does it mention pressure/compression to the sides of the neck (blocking blood flow via carotid arteries). Remember, Garner was speaking and it takes air to talk. So, was the officer’s technique a chokehold by NYPD definition?

Here’s the excerpt from the NYPD Patrol Guide – Use of Force.

PG 203-11
Use of Force

Members of the New York City Police Department will NOT use chokeholds. A chokehold shall include, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air.

Whenever it becomes necessary to take a violent or resisting subject into custody, responding officers should utilize appropriate tactics in a coordinated effort to overcome resistance (for example see PG 216-05, “Aided Cases-Mentally Ill or Emotionally Disturbed Persons”). The patrol supervisor, if present should direct and control all activity. Whenever possible, members should make every effort to avoid tactics, such as sitting or standing on a subject’s chest, which may result in chest compression, thereby reducing the subject’s ability to breathe.

To sum up:

1. Chokeholds are not illegal.

2. Homicide and murder are not always the same.

3. Homicide is legal in many instances.

4. Murder is always a crime.

5. A Grand Jury investigation is not a trial. Guilt or innocence is not the issue. Grand Juries are in place to determine whether or not enough probable cause exists to indict, sending the case before a judge.

6. While chokeholds are not illegal, they are against the policies of the NYPD, and that means the tactic should not be used by its officers. Doing do, however, is not a crime. To use a chokehold to unlawfully kill someone is a crime.

7. The Grand Jury in this case apparently did not find enough evidence to support that the officer involved had committed an illegal act. Remember, the Grand Jury in New York is an arm of the court and is comprised of random members of the community.

As always, this blog is not a forum to discuss racism, cop-hating, prejudices from or toward anyone, etc. But I do encourage a healthy discussion.

*Some opinions were harmed by the facts in this article.

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