On the first day of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo's departmental trial for the chokehold death of Eric Garner, the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) prosecutor repeated the phrase "I can't breathe."

Jonathan Fogel told the NYPD trial judge, "Eric Garner is dead because Officer Daniel Pantaleo used a strictly prohibited chokehold."

The cellphone video of Garner in a deadly encounter with NYPD officers shows him saying, "I can't breathe," several times.

This is not a criminal case, but a disciplinary trial inside Police Headquarters nearly five years after Garner's death. Pantaleo was trying to arrest him on Staten Island for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.

As video of their confrontation played, Garner's sister, Ellisha Garner, and his mother, Gwen Carr, broke down in tears and left the trial room.

"Eric is crying from heaven because he sees his mother and family out here, still trying to fight for justice for him," Carr said later while standing in the rain for a news conference.

Pantaleo was in the room as well, watching silently as the video played. The CCRB prosecutor argued Pantaleo went right for Garner's neck, violating NYPD procedures as he tried to subdue the nearly 400-pound man.

"It is an outrage Eric Garner is not alive today," Fogel added. "He didn't deserve the death penalty for loosies."

Ramsey Orta was the first witness. He testified through a video link from an upstate prison, where he is doing time for drug and gun possession. He captured the cellphone video of the encounter and seemed to cry while watching the footage.

Defense Attorney Stuart London got Orta to admit that the first time Garner said he could not breathe, Pantaleo's arm was not around his neck.

"Mr. Garner never said he couldn't breathe while any arm was near his neck. What we saw was a legal trained seatbelt maneuver," Pat Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, said after Monday's testimony.

"The only reason his hand went towards the neck was because of Mr. Garner's morbid obesity and the fact that he resisted arrest. If he didn't resist arrest, we would not be here today," London said after the testimony.

London also blamed EMS workers for Garner's death, saying they did nothing to help him when they arrived on the scene.

Before Monday's trial started, protesters blocked traffic along the FDR in support of the Garner family for over an hour.



Pantaleo has remained on the force, getting paid without his badge and gun, since the confrontation. If found guilty, he could be fired. Regardless of what the NYPD trial judge rules, Police Commissioner James O'Neill has the final say on any discipline.

The proceedings began after a State Supreme Court judge last week denied a request from Pantaleo's legal team to delay the trial.

The defense tried to remove the Civilian Complaint Review Board as the prosecutor in the case.

A Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges after his death.

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