Eric Garner was standing on a sidewalk Thursday when police, who accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes, approached him.
Garner, 43, told police that he hadn't sold anything and to leave him alone.
After a brief standoff, five police officers attempted to take the 400-pound Staten Island, N.Y., father of six down to the ground. Video footage from the incident shows Garner being choked from behind by one officer as the other officers attempt to handcuff him, the New York Daily News reports. Garner can be heard on the footage saying, "I can't breathe. I can't breathe."
In the end, Garner lay unconscious on the pavement. He later went into cardiac arrest and died at Richmond University Medical Center, the Daily News reports.
"When I kissed my husband this morning, I never thought it would be for the last time," Garner's wife, Esaw, told reporters. The family also noted that Garner suffered from asthma.
Authorities told the Daily News that Garner had a history of selling untaxed cigarettes and had an October court date on three charges, including pot possession and selling untaxed cigarettes.
Witnesses at the scene told the Daily News that Garner wasn't selling cigarettes when police approached him but was breaking up a fight. Garner's family pointed out that he "didn't have any cigarettes on him or in his car at the time of his death."
"They're covering their asses; he was breaking up a fight," Garner's wife told the Daily News. "They harassed and harassed my husband until they killed him."
Internal Affairs is looking into the death, according to authorities.
Read more at the New York Daily News.