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US ‘chokehold’ case settled for $5.9 million

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New York City reached a settlement Monday with the family of Eric Garner for $5.9 million, almost a year after the 43-year-old died in police custody.

The family filed a notice of claim in October, the first step in filing a lawsuit against the city, asking for $75 million. Garner was stopped on July 17 outside a convenience store for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. A video shot by an onlooker shows Garner, a black man, telling the officers to leave him alone and refusing to be handcuffed. Garner is taken to the ground in what appears to be a chokehold, banned by police policy. The officer, Daniel Pantaleo who is white, says it was a legal takedown maneuver.

Garner, who had asthma, is heard gasping, “I can’t breathe!” 11 times before he loses consciousness. He was pronounced dead later at a hospital.

The city medical examiner found that the police chokehold contributed to Garner’s death. But a grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict the officer in the death. A federal probe is ongoing.

Garner’s death sparked demonstrations and became a flashpoint that fueled debates about how U.S. police use force, particularly against minorities.

While the city has a legal department that fields lawsuits, the New York City comptroller’s office also can settle claims. Comptroller Scott Stringer has made a point of doing that in civil rights cases, saying that resolving them quickly saves the city money on legal fees.

“Following a judicious review of the claim and facts of this case, my office was able to reach a settlement with the estate of Eric Garner that is in the best interests of all parties,” Stringer said in a statement announcing the settlement.

“I believe that we have reached an agreement that acknowledges the tragic nature of Mr. Garner’s death while balancing my office’s fiscal responsibility to the City,” Stringer added.

The city did not admit any liability.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that hopefully Garner’s family “can find some peace and finality” from the settlement.

“By reaching a resolution, family and other loved ones can move forward even though we know they will never forget this tragic incident,” said de Blasio, who was scheduled to speak Tuesday at a church memorial service in Garner’s honor.

Longtime civil rights attorney Jonathan Moore, the family’s lawyer, said there also was a settlement with the Richmond University Medical Center, which responded to the scene. That settlement is confidential, and there was no one available at the hospital to comment.

The attorney for Garner’s family did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Rev. Al Sharpton said the settlement to the family was deserved but didn’t resolve the larger questions around policing and minorities.

He, Moore and Garner’s family are expected to hold a press conference on Tuesday.

Last month, the comptroller’s office agreed to pay $6.25 million to a man who spent nearly 25 years in prison before being exonerated in a killing that happened while he was more than 1,000 miles away vacationing at Disney World. A $6.4 million settlement was reached with a man exonerated in the 1990 killing of a rabbi. Stringer also agreed to a $2.25 million payout to the family of a mentally ill inmate who died in a Rikers Island jail cell that sweltered to 101 degrees because of a malfunctioning heating system, and helped put together a $17 million settlement in the case of three half-brothers who spent a combined 60 years in prison before their convictions were thrown out. Al Jazeera


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