PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — People nationwide and here in Pittsburgh were back out on the streets, angry about a grand jury’s decision not to charge a white police officer in the death of an unarmed black suspect last summer in New York.
Eric Garner died after police officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold while trying to arrest him.
On cell phone video, Garner can be heard saying he couldn’t breathe.
The officer says he thought because Garner could speak, he could still breathe.
The chokehold is prohibited by New York Police.
Local police offered some insight into the same chokehold, saying it’s not permitted by Allegheny County Police either — unless lethal force is warranted.
“We do not train the use of the chokehold,” said Allegheny County Police Supt. Charles Moffatt. “As a matter of fact, our rules prohibit the use of it.”
“In the case of a chokehold, you’ve got the guy right here,” said former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht. “You’re face-to-face and he’s saying ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.’ This case is so egregious.”
Dr. Cyril Wecht has followed police procedure and restraint tactics ever since the death of Jonny Gammage in 1995. Gammage died after a traffic stop in Brentwood in which five officers restrained him face down restricting his breathing.
He also recommended charges against police officers who restrained Charles Dixon in 2002 at a Mt. Oliver party. Positional asphyxia was a factor in both deaths.
While he thinks police should be held accountable for face down restraint cases, he understands how police may not have known the effects of their actions like they should have in the New York case.
“Positional asphyxiation, and I don’t say this by way of retroactively excusing what happened in the Jonny Gammage or the Dixon case, but when you’re piling on top of a guy three or four of you,” he said. You may not be aware that the person is finding it difficult to breathe,” he added.
Training for police about positional asphyxia has been underway locally ever since.
“We’ve been training constantly since then to avoid positional asphyxiation and we continue to do so,” said Moffat.
None of the local cases mentioned resulted in the criminal prosecution of any officer. All resulted in civil settlements.
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