Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday night that the federal government is launching a civil rights investigation into the chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black man who was killed by a white police officer in July.
A New York grand jury decided earlier in the day that it would not charge the officer.
“Our prosecutors will conduct an independent, thorough, fair and expeditious investigation,” the outgoing attorney general said.
The Justice Department had been monitoring the case since Garner was killed in July, Holder noted, but waited to initiate a probe until the local investigation concluded. Federal investigators will also review the material used by local law enforcement in the case.
Holder said he had spoken to Garner’s widow, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Obama about the investigation.
A statement from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) indicated that Loretta Lynch, Obama’s nominee to replace Holder and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, would lead the probe.
“I am confident that Loretta Lynch will conduct a tough but fair investigation into the tragic death of Eric Garner. She is both a consummate professional with a strong commitment to justice, and has a close working relationship with the New York City law enforcement community,” Schumer said.
The decision from the New York grand jury comes less than two weeks after a Missouri grand jury declined to charge the white police officer who killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Protests — some violent — quickly erupted nationwide after the Ferguson decision.
Holder’s statement urged protesters in Garner’s case to do so peacefully and reflected the national nature of the uproar over both decisions.
“This is not a New York issue or a Ferguson issue alone,” he said.
The decision by the grand jury not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner’s death has inflamed national tensions around racial bias in policing.
In a recorded video of the incident, the asthmatic 43-year-old is heard saying “I can’t breathe,” as police officers restrain him. Officers said they were trying to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes.