BLOOMFIELD, N.J. – Bodily pressure that impaired his breathing caused the death of a New York man who died in police custody here April 16, apparently while he was suffering an epileptic seizure, authorities said.

Santiago Villanueva was subdued and handcuffed by Bloomfield police early in the afternoon of that day at Quick Cut, a garment factory where he was employed as a material cutter. He died not long after at Columbus Hospital in Newark. The official cause of death was listed as “mechanical asphyxia.”

His employer claimed authorities roughed up Villanueva, even though they were called only because Villanueva was experiencing an epileptic attack. His breathing stopped at one point during the confrontation with police at the factory, but later returned.

According to official reports, police responding to the 911 call deemed Villanueva combative and unresponsive to simple verbal commands at times. They acknowledge applying some force to get him under control.

Autopsy findings served to reinforce the belief of Villanueva’s family, friends and associates that he was unjustly manhandled and probably choked to death by overzealous police.

“Why a man having an epileptic seizure was being arrested is beyond me,” said Sue Karten, a lawyer representing the victim’s family. “There’s no question everyone in the room saw excessive force being applied by the police officers.”

Karten was one of several speakers at a press conference in Manhattan at which members of New York’s Dominican community and some activists promised to rally against police brutality in Bloomfield.

Villanueva’s wife, Lisaann Marina Villanueva, asked that the three unidentified Bloomfield officers who responded to the emergency be indicted. She said her husband suffered from periodic epileptic seizures but always pulled out of them quickly.

“All he needed was medical attention,” she maintained. “If he’d gotten it, he’d be here with me today.”

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