NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man, described as an asthmatic father of six, died after New York police tackled him in front of a beauty parlor and put him in a chokehold on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes.
The New York Police Department said that Eric Garner, 43, was selling bootleg cigarettes in front of a Staten Island hair salon on Thursday, and suffered a heart attack when officers attempted to take him into custody.
He weighed 350 pounds (158.757 kg) and measured 6 feet 3 inches (1.9 meters) in May, his most recent of 31 arrests - some of which were for selling untaxed smokes, police said on Friday.
His wife told the New York Daily News that he was asthmatic, diabetic and suffered from sleep apnea.
In a 3-minute video clip of the incident that was published online by the newspaper, Garner denies selling anything. He says he was minding his own business moments after having stopped a street fight between others. The source of the video couldn’t immediately be confirmed.
The video recording shows that as officers surrounded him, Garner asks that they not touch him, but at least four officers tackle him to the ground and pile on top of him.
One officer puts him in a chokehold and pushes his face into the pavement, the recording shows.
“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” Garner says in the video.
By the end of the clip, Garner is seen motionless on the sidewalk. Police scramble to push a gathering crowd away from Garner, and one officer assures onlookers that Garner was alright.
Mayor Bill de Blasio promised a full investigation into the death that would be led by the Staten Island District Attorney, in coordination with the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
“We have a responsibility to keep every New Yorker safe, and that includes when individuals are in custody of the NYPD. That is a responsibility that Police Commissioner Bratton and I take very seriously,” de Blasio said in a statement.
The mayor and police commissioner will hold a news conference on the incident later on Friday.
The family of Garner, who has six children, will join Reverend Al Sharpton and his National Action Network on Saturday to demand a full investigation into the death, the network said in a statement.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bernadette Baum