De Blasio Delays Trip After Man Dies in Police Custody

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio postponed a planned family trip to Italy by one day to talk to community leaders and elected officials after a man died while in police custody.

Eric Garner, 43, a Staten Island resident, died yesterday after plainclothes officers struggled to restrain and handcuff him while arresting him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said.

Bratton said video of the arrest showed officers applying what “would appear to have been a chokehold,” which is prohibited by department policy. The encounter received widespread news coverage and was the subject of a press conference added to the mayor’s schedule this afternoon.

“Like so many New Yorkers I was very troubled by the video I reviewed earlier today,” de Blasio said at the briefing with Bratton. He promised “a full and thorough investigation.”

De Blasio, 53, became the first Democrat to be elected mayor of the most populous U.S. city in 20 years, assuming office Jan. 1 while vowing to reduce a police practice known as “stop-and-frisk” that involved questioning hundreds of thousands of mostly young minority men on city streets.

The mayor was set to take off for Rome this evening with his wife, son and daughter for a nine-day trip -- the longest vacation by a New York mayor in more than 20 years. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had criticized the planned absence, saying the mayor needed to be in the city in case of an emergency.

‘More Important’

De Blasio changed his family’s planned departure in the wake of the furor.

“It’s more important for him to be here tonight so that he could consult with community leaders, elected officials,” Marti Adams, a spokeswoman for the mayor, told reporters De Blasio announced he was postponing his trip.

Bratton said the police officers encountered Garner at about 3:30 p.m. local time, “concerning the sale of illegal cigarettes” on a Staten Island street.

“In attempting to take Mr. Garner into custody, there was a physical struggle during which Mr. Garner repeatedly complained of difficulty breathing as the officers wrestled him to the ground,” Bratton said. Garner “went into cardiac arrest” and was pronounced dead after being transported to a hospital by ambulance, he said.

The mayor’s planned itinerary mixes business with pleasure, including two days in Rome for sightseeing and visits with municipal officials.

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