I saw nothing excessive in the manner in which the officers subdued Garner. He was neither beaten with batons nor even punched. To me, it appeared to be a fairly typical scuffle with a large man who had clearly demonstrated his unwillingness to be arrested peacefully. Pantaleo and another plainclothes officer were the first to have contacted Garner, and they showed good judgment by waiting for additional officers to arrive before moving in for the arrest. But once Garner showed he would not willingly be handcuffed, things happened as they most often do in these situations: The cops grabbed whatever part of Garner they could and wrestled him to the ground. It happens every day in any large city you could name. Given Garner’s medical condition, which included obesity, asthma, and high blood pressure, it seems very possible he would have died from the exertion of the scuffle in any case, even if no officer had touched his neck at all.

Where I do find fault with the officers is in their failure to bring Garner to a seated position as soon as they had him under control. Police trainers have long been aware of a phenomenon known as positional asphyxia, in which a person subdued as Garner was can die if left lying in a prone position for too long. Obese people are known to be at a greater risk of this condition than others. The civil case to follow will likely rest on this lapse as much as it does on the use of force itself.