A man who died after a New York City police officer took him to the ground in a chokehold appeared to have little damage to his neck and trachea, according to preliminary autopsy results, a law enforcement source said, but that may not be enough to keep him from being disciplined or even facing criminal charges.
Eric Garner, who was 6-foot-3 and roughly 350 pounds, died Thursday after police struggled to arrest him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island, according to the NYPD. Police said he appeared to suffer a heart attack.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, an 8-year veteran who was seen in a video that has sparked outrage putting Garner in a chokehold, has been placed on "modified assignment," meaning he was stripped of his badge and gun, pending the outcome of the dual probes by the district attorney and Internal Affairs.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton had announced Friday that the cop and his partner were on "desk duty," but they still had their guns and shields.
A chokehold is a violation of NYPD police, regardless of whether the move causes any damage, but beyond that, prosecutors and police investigators will be looking at whether it caused or contributed to Garner's death about an hour after he was taken into custody.
The New York City Medical Examiner's Office said today it had not reached any finding on Garner's cause of death.
"At this time, no determination has been made by the Medical Examiner's office as to the cause and manner of death of Eric Garner," ME spokeswoman Julie Bolcer said. "The cause and manner of death are pending further studies, and no findings will be released until the investigation is complete. Any other information or suggestion to the contrary is simply not true."
Official preliminary results could come in the next few days.
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Four EMS workers, employees of the hospital-run ambulance service that responded to the call Thursday, have also been placed on modified duty while the response to Garner's death is reviewed, according to a New York City official. The four can still earn their salaries but are temporarily barred from responding to emergency calls.
Garner was arrested in Staten Island after he was allegedly seen selling "loosie" cigarettes, police said. Garner was known for selling individual cigarettes for 50 cents each in his Staten Island neighborhood.
Police said the cigarettes come from North Carolina and Garner is the end of the supply line. Because the Staten Island man allegedly sold cigarettes to children, the police called the cigarettes a "quality of life" issue in the neighborhood.
Garner's death has led to outrage, especially after video obtained by the New York Daily News appeared to show that the man was put into a chokehold as he was arrested.
The chokehold is prohibited by NYPD departmental policy.
Mayor Bill De Blasio called the video of the arrest "very troubling" and delayed a planned vacation for a day after hearing about the incident. De Blasio said NYPD internal affairs and the local district attorney were investigating the incident.
The video shows officers approaching Garner, who initially denies that he's selling loose cigarettes.
"I'm minding my business why don't you leave me alone," Garner can be heard saying.
Eventually when police officers move in, Garner appears to not comply and at least five officers wrestle him to the ground as they attempt to handcuff him.
As Garner is being held down, he can be heard telling police that he "can't breathe." Eventually when officers realize he is not responsive, they called in an ambulance, which took Garner to a hospital where he died a short time later.
The apparent violence of the arrest led to outrage and the internal investigation. On line, numerous people tweeted #JusticeforEricGarner, calling attention to the deadly incident.
Policeman's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, questioned by ABC News about what constitutes an appropriate use of force, said the public should not rush to judge before the official investigation is concluded.
"At times, when officers are required to make an arrest, they must employ the use of force in order to get compliance from an individual who NYPD policy requires must be rear-cuffed for transport to a precinct," Lynch said. "Force, by its very nature, is an ugly thing to witness. Taken out of the context of what is happening, necessary force can be misinterpreted to be excessive by those who are not trained in law enforcement procedures."
ABC News' Dean Schabner contributed to this report.
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