Garner’s obesity made an effective ‘chokehold’ impossible and is probably what killed him

Garner’s obesity made an effective ‘chokehold’ impossible and is probably what killed him

Having reviewed the video several times now, and being a physician who specialized in the surgery of the very obese, I believe that the cause of Mr. Garner’s death was not “police brutality” or negligence, but rather the unfortunate synergy between his disease of morbid obesity and actions most police perform countless times with only transient discomfort to the arrestee.  The decision of the Grand Jury was reasonable. …

Eric Garner was very obese, said to weigh at least 350 pounds.  In fact, based upon his height and appearance, he very likely weighed more than that … His chest was similarly blanketed with a heavy layer of fat, and he had no visible neck – no indentation under his jaw, typically present in non-obese persons, which permits application of a “chokehold,” to briefly arrest the carotid circulation to render him unconscious and manageable.  The chokehold was ineffective as a control, but it served to take him to the ground by leverage.

Medically, he was said to suffer from sleep apnea, and he may well also have Pickwickian Syndrome (less picturesquely, “Obesity-hypoventilation syndrome”), which can cause resting hypoxia; low blood oxygen levels, even at rest; and altered physiological responses to high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood.  These conditions in turn lead to congestive heart failure and to sporadic loss of consciousness.


  • It was after Pantaleo had released his hold that Garner uttered, “I can’t breathe!” several times.  Garner was still alive and conscious after Pantaleo released him from the “chokehold” that supposedly (by overwhelming popular opinion) was responsible for his death!
  • Mr. Garner was subdued by other officers who placed their weight on his body in order to wrest his arms behind him to apply handcuffs.
  • Mr. Garner’s chest capacity (vital capacity) was already seriously compromised by his obesity.  An officer’s weight on his chest would further diminish his lung capacities.
  • A normal and healthy male would have been transiently distressed by the actions of the arresting officers.  Mr. Garner had no margin of safety, no reserve at all, and was precariously unstable even before he was accosted.  The actions of the arresting officers, undoubtedly used many times before without significant ill effect, combined with Garner’s pathophysiology to rapidly produce hypoxia, very likely aggravated by carbon dioxide retention and narcosis, which suppresses the normal reflex to breathe.  This was rapidly followed by cardiac arrhythmia and death.

Continue reading →

Commenting Policy

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse.

You may use HTML in your comments. Feel free to review the full list of allowed HTML here.