The death of a New York man who was placed in a "chokehold" by NYPD officers while being arrested has been ruled a homicide by the city's medical examiner's office.
Investigators determined that 43-year-old Eric Garner died from "compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police," reports the New York Post. Chronic bronchial asthma, obesity, and cardiovascular disease also contributed to Garner's death, according to the medical examiner's report.
What does this mean for potential criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits against the officers implicated in Garner's death?
Arrested for Illegal Cigarette Sales
The confrontation that led to Garner's death came after police attempted to arrest Garner for allegedly selling "loose cigarettes" -- cigarettes purchased in other states and sold in New York to avoid the state's tobacco taxes.
While attempting to subdue Garner, a plainclothes officer police placed him a chokehold, a maneuver prohibited under NYPD rules after being linked to several deaths. The entire incident was captured on video by an onlooker (who, in a separate incident over the weekend, was arrested on gun charges, New York's WNBC-TV reports).
Potential Criminal / Civil Cases
To be clear, the medical examiner's homicide ruling is not a legal conclusion. The Staten Island District Attorney's office is now determining whether to file criminal homicide charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who placed Garner in the chokehold, reports the New York Post.
However, even if prosecutors decline to press charges, the federal government may still charge Pantaleo with violating Garner's civil rights. In a prior case, an NYPD officer implicated in the 1998 chokehold death of Anthony Baez was acquitted on homicide charges at the state level, but convicted of civil rights violations in federal court and sentenced to prison.
A potential criminal conviction would increase the likelihood of a successful civil lawsuit filed as a result of Garner's death under Section 1983 of the U.S. Code. Even if Pantaleo is charged and acquitted in criminal court, he will still likely face a wrongful death lawsuit by Garner's family.