Justice Dept Will Not Charge Cop in NYC "Choke Hold" Case
Reenactments Showed How Approved Police Maneuver Had to Be Modified For Garner
The lawyer for Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer on trial for allegedly using a choke hold, has insisted that what his client actually used was an authorized "seat belt" maneuver or take down which slipped as Eric Garner struggled, and that Pantaleo did not intend to use a banned technique.
If that is true, Pantaleo apparently did not have the requisite criminal intent ("mens rea") for a crime, and therefore cannot be legally disciplined, suggests public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who staged an actual demonstration to test whether Pantaleo's lawyer's claim is realistic.
Banzhaf says that was able to find a volunteer who is very big but still slightly smaller than Garner - about 6 ft. 4 in. and 300 lbs. - and who agreed to stand perfectly still while the professor tried to execute the approved seat belt maneuver on him.
This maneuver requires that the officer extend one of his arms over the perpetrator's [perp's] shoulder while the officer's other arm goes under the perp's opposite armpit.
Then, to use this maneuver to bring a reluctant perp to the ground, the officer clasps or interlocks both his hands across the perp's chest so that the perp can held tightly, and then thrown to the ground. In other words, the officer's two arms resemble a seat belt holding the perp firmly in place.
At no time is there any intent to choke the victim, or to otherwise restrict his breathing. The prohibited "choke hold" is defined as "any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air." Strangely, a key witness for the prosecution, Deputy Inspector Charles Barton, admitted on cross examination that he did not know the definition of the hold which is prohibited.
What Banzhaf found was that in trying to execute the seat belt maneuver or take down, he could not bring his two hands together, much less securely clasp or interlock them across the perp's chest. Thus he could not control a perp and throw him to the ground.
Banzhaf says that, because of the perp's very large chest, he was not able to control him at all, much less lock his hand's together in a seat belt hold.
This meant, Banzhaf says, that he had to suddenly and unexpectedly alter the configuration of his arms in such a way that it might seem to be a choking maneuver.