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What really led to the choking death of Eric Garner?

It has been almost a year since the release of the video showing the choking death of Eric Garner as he was being arrested in Staten Island, New York. Garner’s death, along with the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, of Michael Brown. caused nationwide protests. Now, new details are emerging about the circumstances surrounding Garner’s death. New York Times reporter Benjamin Mueller joins Hari Sreenivasan with the latest.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    It has been almost a year now since we first saw the video showing the choking death of Eric Garner as he was being arrested on Staten Island here in New York.

    That event, along with the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, of Michael Brown, triggered nationwide protests. We're now learning much more about the circumstances that led to Garner's death.

    Reporter Benjamin Mueller is part of a team with The New York Times that has been working the story. And he joins us now with the latest.

    So, one of the first reports police made about the incident made no reference to actually anybody's hands being on his neck or his arms, of anything being around his neck. But yet the — the — you quote the autopsy as saying, on external examination of the neck, there are no visible injuries. On the inside, however, were telltale signs of choking.

    Why this discrepancy?

  • BENJAMIN MUELLER:

    You're right.

    I mean, this is an internal police department document that is prepared soon after his death and, in this case, before the pivotal video came out that showed the choke hold.

    It comes from interviews with supervisors who were on the scene. And there's no mention of any contact with Eric Garner's neck. That's despite them interviewing a witness, Taisha Allen, who — who told a grand jury she saw a choke hold and told us that she told the police department officials who interviewed her that day that she saw a choke hold too.

    The statement attributed to her is different from the one she said she gave them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, if it wasn't for that video, there is a chance that that version of the truth could be the record.

    So, there's — she's also — she's also behind the second video that shows the — how the emergency responders, the ambulance folks came in, the medical technicians. The protocol is supposed to be that anyone who is having a heart attack or having breathing problems is supposed to be taken to the hospital right away.

    What happened in this case?

  • BENJAMIN MUELLER:

    From the start, the EMTs who responded actually knew very little about what they were responding to. The call came in as unknown, which is a low priority. They didn't know that police officers were involved. They didn't know what Eric Garner's condition was, all information that could have helped them prepare.

    And then, once they're on the scene, there are a series of sort of communication breakdowns that seems to have contributed to what appears to be a disorganized response. Their — the oxygen supplies are not kept by his side. In fact, they are carried away from his side by an EMT trainee who is on the scene.

    There are no fire department supervisors who are assisting in care on the scene, which is typical in a case of cardiac arrest. But, again, this didn't start as a case of that level of seriousness.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, what has happened since? It's been almost a year now. There are still investigations under way. They haven't wrapped up. But have there been any policy changes at the NYPD because of this?

  • BENJAMIN MUELLER:

    Well, since then, the police department has instituted a retraining of some officers in the way they use force.

    They have also created a new centralized unit to investigate cases of police death — of deaths from shooting by police officers. It is not clear how exactly they're connected to the Garner incident, but, surely, that was part of a string of deaths of unarmed black men around the country that set off calls for reform.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Benjamin Mueller of The New York Times, thanks so much.

  • BENJAMIN MUELLER:

    Thank you.

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