Chokehold Victim Known As ‘Gentle Giant’

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“I do not expect my officers to walk away from that type of situation,” Bratton said Friday.

Garner had had plenty of experience with police: He’d been arrested 31 times since 1988 on charges including drug possession, assault and selling untaxed cigarettes, according to police. He was facing two open untaxed-cigarette cases, plus a third case in which prosecutors dropped that charge but were still pursuing unlicensed driving and marijuana possession charges stemming from an August 2013 car stop, court records show.

He was fighting them all, his attorneys said.

“He repeatedly told us that he felt he was targeted and harassed by the police, and he wasn’t going to take any pleas,” said Christopher Pisciotta, the senior supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s Staten Island criminal defense practice.

But if Garner was frustrated with police, he was also known as an even-tempered, good-natured presence in the area — “Staten Island’s biggest godfather,” as friend Jonathan DeGroat put it. “His last penny was your last penny.”

Garner often defused the tensions that sometimes flare on the block, pulling people aside to talk them down from confrontation, friends said. Ramsey Orta, who shot the video of Garner’s encounter with police, said Garner had broken up a fight shortly before police arrived.

“He had a hug and a smile for everybody,” said Jennifer Rotwein, who works at a tattoo parlor nearby. “He was always trying to keep the peace.”

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