Echoing what’s become a slogan for Black Lives Matter protesters, a stocky security guard yelled “I can’t breathe” as he was tasered seven times during his arrest earlier this summer, resulting in his death.
George Zapantis, a 29-year-old security guard with a history of mental illness from Queens, was killed after a five-minute struggle with police on June 21. The New York Police Department has now posted a new, three-hour video showing Zapantis’ cries during his arrest. In the footage, the suspect is seen at the door of his home before growing angry and attacking police. The mass of bodies bring him to the ground as his shouts turn to squeals, and then silence.
He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital; results of an autopsy are still pending.
George Vomvolakis, an attorney representing Zapantis’ family, called the video’s release “an opportunity for the public to see with their own eyes the excessive force.”
“It doesn’t take a trained professional to realize that six people on top of somebody and tasering them repeatedly could potentially kill them,” Vomvolakis said.
Police responded to Zapantis’ home in Queens, which he shared with his mother and sister, following a call from a neighbor. The complaint said the security guard had approached their 25-year-old son carrying a sword.
After knocking on the door, Zapantis appeared through the glass panes wearing a gladiator outfit, which included a shield and a “sword attached to his left waist,” according to police. He later reappeared at the door without the sword and helmet, moments before he charged officers shouting expletives.
However, the victim makes it clear in the video he is unarmed. He was reportedly tasered the first time when he barged through the screen door to apparently attack officers. While trying to detain the man, during which officers repeatedly shouted at Zapantis to stop struggling and to put his hands behind his back, the officers question whether he is OK after being tasered seven times.
“Does he have a pulse,” asked one officer.
“He’s breathing, right,” said another.
A spokesperson for the NYPD says the matter is still under investigation by the department’s Force Investigation Division. “We do not draw any conclusions about whether an officer’s actions were consistent with department policy and the law until all the facts are known,” said NYPD spokesperson Carlos Nieves.
Three officers were identified as firing their tasers a total of six times. A fourth officer fired a colleague’s taser in “drive stun” mode—a setting intended to immobilize someone by causing pain.
Police brutality and excessive force have been in the media spotlight since George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minneapolis over Memorial Day weekend. The death of Floyd, who also told the officers arresting him that he could not breathe, sparked protests across the United States and elsewhere.
The phrase first gained notoriety following the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who said it while held by New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in a chokehold prohibited by the department. Pantaleo was not indicted in Garner’s death but was fired by the department in 2019.
Overall, American police kill citizens at a much higher rate than in other wealthy nations. Specifically, in the U.S., police kill 33.5 people per 10 million people, which is more than three times higher than the second-most measured country, Canada, at 9.8, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.
(Edited by Stephen Thomas Gugliociello and Matthew Hall.)