Eric Garner. / AP
A man's death shortly after his arrest by the New York Police Department raises questions about what's reasonable when it comes to law enforcement's use of force.
Police attempted to arrest Eric Garner for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes Thursday. In a video shot by a bystander, an officer appears to put his arm around Garner's neck as officers wrestle Garner to the ground.
On the ground, Garner says, "I can't breathe. I can't breathe." Garner was transported to a medical center, where he was pronounced dead.
Whether the officer, who was stripped of his gun and badge, executed a chokehold is being investigated by the district attorney and the police department's Internal Affairs. The medical examiner has not released its findings.
Since 1993, the NYPD has banned the use of chokeholds. The department's patrol guide defines a chokehold as including, but not limited to, "any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air."
One police union cautioned against using the word "chokehold" before the investigations conclude.
"I don't believe this was a chokehold. They were trying to bring him on the ground and get his arms around his back and place him under arrest," said Patrick Lynch, president of the New York Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.
Lynch said, "Using reasonable force to put someone under arrest is not always pretty unfortunately, especially when you have a person who says they will not comply."
In a news conference a day after Garner's death, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said Garner "appeared to have been in a chokehold." He said the investigations will "seek to make that final determination."
Generally, chokeholds are considered to be a form of "lethal force," said Michael Huth, director of training at the National Law Enforcement Training Center.
At the Los Angeles Police Department, officers who use a chokehold must be able to "articulate your life or someone's else's being in danger," said Joel Morales, a spokesman for the LAPD.
The District of Columbia's police department prohibits any "neck restraint" unless there is an imminent threat of death or serious injury, and no other option is available, according to the department's use-of-force policy.
In New York City, chokeholds represent a small percentage of overall use-of-force complaints against the NYPD. In 2013, New York City's Civilian Complaint Review Board received 259 complaints about chokeholds, representing less than 5% of overall use-of-force complaints. Only two of the chokehold complaints were listed as substantiated in 2013, according to data posted by the review board.
Asked at the news conference if chokeholds are seen as a widespread problem, Bratton said, "We do not."
HOW POLICE MAKE AN ARREST
Nationally, there is no set of rules for how much force officers should use, according to the National Institute of Justice, part of the Department of Justice.
Many factors come into play when determining the appropriate amount of force to use, including the police department's experience, available law enforcement technologies and the relationship between the police and the citizen, the NIJ states.
It's unclear whether the officers in Garner's arrest had known him. Garner had been arrested by the NYPD more than 30 times, said Sgt. Lee Jones of the NYPD public information office.
The National Law Enforcement Training Center teaches a maneuver called the "lateral vascular neck restraint" that cuts off oxygen to the brain to cause a suspect to lose consciousness but protects the airway, Huth said.
"It's never our goal to render one unconscious. We simply want to ... change their actions," Huth said.
The maneuver is effective for an officer trying to control someone larger, he said.
The NLETC has trained more than 500 agencies worldwide to use the lateral vascular neck restraint. The NYPD is not among those agencies, Huth said.
The NYPD incident highlights the reality that the arrest is an "unscripted situation" in which officers don't know how much force they will have to use, said Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former assistant district attorney in Brooklyn and Queens.
"As every cop eventually realizes, you can't talk to everybody and you can't de-escalate every situation. The question is, what then?" O'Donnell said.
He said, "The fact that something looks bad, is ugly, makes people uncomfortable ... doesn't make it a crime."
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Read the original story: 'I can't breathe': Death spotlights police use of chokeholds