The incident happened on Jerome Avenue in the Woodlawn section late Wednesday.
Police say the 53-year-old man died as plainclothes police officers attempted to arrest him for drug possession inside the Jerome Convenience store just after 10 p.m.
The officers reportedly observed him involved in a drug transaction near 233rd Street and attempted to question him, when they say he took off running. They caught him in front of the store, where a struggle ensued and spilled from the sidewalk inside the bodega.
The exact details of the events that followed are unknown at this time, but an eyewitness says he saw the incident unfold. Ramone Aikens, the bread deliveryman, says he saw the officers trying to get something out of the man's mouth, but he refused.
"They sprayed him with mace to calm him, and they kept asking him to let go of what was in his mouth," Aikens said. "And he still refused. At that point, one of the officers winded up pushing his head down to the floor repeatedly and stepping on his back."
On the ground, police say the man started choking and having difficulty breathing. Aikens said that when the victim lost consciousness, officer tried to revive him using CPR and called for an ambulance.
While taking him to Bronx North Central Hospital, EMTs reportedly pulled a golf ball-sized bag from his throat. Officials believe the bag contained crack cocaine.
He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
The man lives in the Bronx and has 23 prior arrests, for crimes including narcotics possession, grand larceny, burglary and a federal gun possession charge.
The man was not believed to have a weapon and the death is under investigation by police.
None of the police officers involved were seriously hurt.
The bodega reopened for business Thursday morning after being closed for the investigation.