By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK, July 20 (Reuters) - Four emergency responders have been put on modified duty while authorities investigate their response to a man, suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes, who died after New York police put him in a chokehold, a fire department official said on Sunday.
The two paramedics and two emergency medical technicians will not be permitted to respond to 911 calls while the death of Eric Garner, who was 43, is investigated, the fire department official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not a department spokesman.
Garner's death, the cause of which is still being determined by the city's medical examiner, has provoked outrage.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who promised to improve frayed relations between police and the public when he took office in January, called the death a "terrible tragedy" and promised a "thorough" investigation by the Staten Island district attorney and the police department's internal affairs bureau.
The four suspended emergency workers are not employees of the fire department but work for a Staten Island hospital, the fire department official said.
Two police officers involved have also been put on desk duty.
In a widely circulated bystander's video, Garner can be seen arguing with police officers outside a Staten Island beauty parlor on Thursday and denying that he is selling untaxed cigarettes before officers tackle him to the ground.
One officer puts him in a chokehold as Garner repeatedly says, "I can't breathe!" the video shows. The police department bans the use of chokeholds.
A second video emerged over the weekend, apparently recorded by another bystander, in which police officers stand around Garner. He is either unconscious or already dead as he lies motionless on the ground, his hands cuffed behind his back. A couple officers occasionally move his limp body, the video shows; other officers check the contents of his trouser pocket, removing a cellphone and packs of cigarettes.
"Come on, guy, breathe out, alright?" one officer says in the video as he crouches over Garner and pats him on the shoulder.
After several minutes, the video shows an emergency responder arriving and taking Garner's pulse at his wrist and neck. Several officers then lift Garner, still limp, with his eyes open, onto a stretcher. He was declared dead at a nearby hospital.
Garner weighed 350 pounds (159 kg) and stood 6 feet 3 inches (1.9 meters) in May, the time of his most recent of 31 arrests, according to police. His wife has said he was asthmatic, diabetic and suffered from sleep apnea.
One of the two suspended police officers, identified by police as Daniel Pantaleo, has had to relinquish his gun and badge, according to local media reports, a move that was criticized by the main police officer's union.
"The department's modification of this police officer under these circumstances is a completely unwarranted, knee-jerk reaction for political reasons," Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said in a statement. He said the move unfairly "pre-judges" the officer.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Dan Grebler)