A 400 pound asthmatic father of six died Thursday after an NYPD officer locked him in a chokehold and other officers appeared to slam his head against a sidewalk in Staten Island, New York, according to witnesses, after he tried to break up a fight.
A nearly 3-minute video of the encounter posted on YouTube, shows the father, identified as 43-year-old Eric Warner by the New York Daily News, screaming "I can't breathe, I can't breathe," repeatedly before falling silent as cops swarmed him when he refused to be handcuffed after expressing surprise that the officers were harassing him for trying to break up a fight.
He also told an officer on the scene "… every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I'm tired of it. It stops today," as community members watched the encounter unfold.
"I'm minding my business officer. I told you the last time please just leave me alone," he added.
Shortly after the officers are shown in the video trying to arrest him and he balked and told them "please, don't touch me," before he was locked in a chokehold by the officer and taken to the ground.
Warner, of Bond Street in Port Richmond, was pronounced dead at Richmond University Medical Center West Brighton after the incident, which took place at the intersection of Victory Boulevard and Bay Street at about 4:45 p.m., according to the Staten Island Advance.
Witness Valencia Griffin told the Advance that said she saw two men fighting outside a beauty supply shop at 202 Bay St. in Tompkinsville and Garner attempted to break it up.
"The two guys fighting, they saw the cops coming and walked away," said Griffin.
"All I kept hearing from him was, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe,'" she added. "He never fought back -- he didn't know why they were arresting him."
A police source said officers were trying to arrest Garner because they saw him selling untaxed cigarettes, which he had done in the past, according to the Advance. He was also a known to sell drugs.
"He absolutely resisted arrest. He took a fighting stance," said the source.
The Rev. Lloyd Land of the First United Christian Church, however, refuted the drug dealing allegation against Garner, whom he called a "gentle giant" who died senselessly.
"This guy was nobody's drug dealer. He doesn't drink liquor. He doesn't do drugs. What he does is he sells cigarettes," said Rev. Land. "He sells cigarettes, 50 cents apiece. That's how he makes a living.
"He was a gentle giant. Insofar as violence, I don't believe if you smack him in the face he would hit you back. ... The police have no reason to attack him," Land added.
Garner's wife, Esaw, was left in shock on learning of her husband's death.
"When I kissed my husband this morning, I never thought it would be for the last time," she told the Daily News.