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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The death of a man during an arrest last month in New York City was caused by a choke hold by a police officer, the chief medical examiner's office said on Friday, declaring the death a homicide.
Eric Garner's dying moments as he struggled for breath on a Staten Island sidewalk after police arrested him for peddling untaxed cigarettes on July 17 were captured in bystanders' videos, and prompted outrage and questions about police tactics.
The autopsy results released on Friday appear to settle any remaining doubts the police officer's choke hold helped kill him. The city's police force has been banned from using the maneuver for more than 20 years, and the city has said it is investigating why the practice appears to persist.
Garner died as a result of the compression to his neck caused by the choke hold, compression to his chest and "prone positioning during physical restraint by police," the city medical examiner's office said in an email summarizing the findings.
Bronchial asthma, obesity and hypertensive cardiovascular disease were also listed as contributing conditions, the summary said.
The medical examiner's office does not weigh in on issues of criminal liability.
"Thank God the truth is finally out," Eric Garner's widow, Esaw Garner, was quoted as saying by the New York Daily News. The family was due to join civil rights activist Al Sharpton at a news conference on Saturday.
Patrick Lynch, president of the city's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union representing police officers, said: "We believe, however, that if he (Garner) had not resisted the lawful order of the police officers placing him under arrest, this tragedy would not have occurred."
The Staten Island district attorney's office said it was continuing its investigation of Garner's death. The police department said it was cooperating in that probe.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned last year on a promise to help mend frayed relations between police and black and Latino New Yorkers, extended his "deepest sympathies" to Garner's family.
"As mayor, I remain absolutely committed to ensuring that the proper reforms are enacted to ensure that this won't happen again," the mayor's statement said.
In the videos recorded on bystanders' phones, Garner, a black, 43-year-old father of six, can be seen arguing with several police officers trying to arrest him outside a beauty parlor
An officer then puts him in a choke hold and Garner ends up flat on the sidewalk, telling the officer whose arm is around his neck that he cannot breathe. He soon goes limp.
Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put Garner in the choke hold, was placed on desk duty while investigations into the death take place.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has said the police department would retrain all officers in the use of force, but defended his policy of targeting even minor crimes like selling loose cigarettes.
Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Cooney