In his closing argument on behalf of Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo last week, defense attorney Stu London contended that Eric Garner was killed not by an NYPD-banned chokehold applied by his client but rather several serious physical ailments from which he suffered that made him particularly vulnerable to stress and strenuous physical struggle.

In essence, he said, Mr. Garner set in motion his own demise by resisting arrest when Officer Pantaleo tried to handcuff him for selling untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island street.

His remarks about Mr. Garner are valid; it was poor judgment to resist given his physical condition. But the dead man was someone whose own wife acknowledged, with affection, that he could be irresponsible.

That doesn’t exonerate Officer Pantaleo, a veteran cop whose training should have given him better judgment in a tense situation than a street guy who was chronically in trouble. At the time he tried to cuff Mr. Garner, the suspect was engaged in a loud but civil argument with the officer’s partner. Particularly given the petty nature of the alleged crime, there was no urgency to cuffing Mr. Garner rather than letting him vent.

That reality should loom large in deciding Officer Pantaleo’s fate.


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