NYPD officer won’t face federal charges in death of Eric Garner
The family of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 during an attempted arrest by New York police, on Tuesday blasted federal prosecutors’ decision not to bring charges against the officer on the case as a denial of justice.
Garner’s death during an arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes — and his gasped final words “I can’t breathe,” caught on bystander video — played a key role in the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement decrying excessive use of force by police officers against black men and teens in the United States.
A lengthy Department of Justice review of the incident did not reach a conclusive determination of whether Officer Daniel Pantaleo willfully committed misconduct, an “essential element” necessary to bring federal charges, a senior department official told reporters at a briefing in Washington.
“We have to match up what we see” with all the elements of a crime required to be proven under the law, the official said. “It did not fit within the statute.”
The official confirmed that no New York police officer — not just Pantaleo — will face any charges.
“The DOJ has failed us,” Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said. She said she wants Pantaleo fired.
“Five years ago, my son said ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times, and today we can’t breathe because they let us down.”
Wednesday will mark five years since the incident. A New York grand jury in 2014 declined to charge Pantaleo, who has been assigned to desk duty since Garner’s death. He faced a disciplinary trial in May at New York City Police Department headquarters.
After meeting with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, members of Garner’s family joined civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who decried the decision as “a moral disgrace and judicial malpractice.”
Disciplinary decision still to be determined
Federal prosecutors, who had been looking at possible civil rights violations, decided not to bring charges, according to a source familiar with the decision.
A spokesperson for the federal prosecutor’s office in Brooklyn declined to comment on the report ahead of a news briefing. A spokesperson for New York’s Police Benevolent Association union declined to immediately comment on the news.
Medical experts have determined Garner’s death was a homicide induced by “compression of neck, compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”
Pantaleo’s lawyers have argued he did not use a chokehold, but instead used an authorized “seatbelt” hold that slipped as Garner struggled, and that the officer did not cause Garner’s death.
Following Pantaleo’s disciplinary trial, a departmental judge is due to make her recommendations to New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill, who will then ultimately decide whether to punish Pantaleo. He could lose vacation days or be fired.
The incident, and other high-profile police killings of black men and teens in cities including Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, set off a wave of nationwide protests in 2014 and 2015.