New York Dems urge Lynch to prosecute in Eric Garner case

New York Dems urge Lynch to prosecute in Eric Garner case
© Greg Nash
New York Democrats are urging the Obama administration to bring charges over the 2014 death of an unarmed Staten Island man at the hands of police, warning that the incoming Trump administration will likely drop the case altogether.
 
"The DOJ’s window for meaningful action ... is closing," the lawmakers wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. 
 
The Department of Justice (DOJ) in December 2014 launched a civil rights investigation after Eric Garner was killed on a New York street corner when he was choked by an officer during an arrest. But the agency has taken no formal action since then.
 
The inaction is a mistake, the Democratic lawmakers say, arguing that Garner's rights were clearly violated.
 
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"When a police officer crosses the line and violates the civil rights of a citizen, particularly one who is unarmed, there must be accountability in the criminal justice system. Often, that does not occur," the Democrats wrote. "In this instance, given the strong videotaped evidence, failure to act would be a miscarriage of justice."
 
Spearheaded by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the letter was endorsed by fellow New York Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Jose Serrano, Nydia Velazquez, Gregory Meeks, Yvette Clarke and Adriano Espaillat, a freshman.
 
Lynch is intimately familiar with the topic: Before becoming the country's top law enforcement official she served as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, where she oversaw the initial work on Garner's case.
 
The Democrats are urging immediate action for another reason: They fear that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE's law-and-order rhetoric –– an approach shared by Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight The Memo: Trump and McCabe go to war MORE, an Alabama Republican in line to replace Lynch atop the DOJ –– means the odds of prosecuting the Garner case grow shorter after Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20.
 
"In approximately two weeks, there will be a new DOJ less committed to civil rights enforcement. Consequently, the investigation into Mr. Garner’s death may itself be suffocated and die," the Democrats wrote. 
 
"This result is not only unacceptable for Mr. Garner and his family, but for all communities where the use of excessive force and overly aggressive policing tactics threaten life and liberty."
 
Garner, an unarmed 43-year-old black man from Staten Island, died in July of 2014 after Daniel Pantaleo, a white New York Police Department officer, applied a chokehold during an arrest. Garner, a father of six, had been suspected of selling individual cigarettes –– a crime because such sales are untaxed. 
 
A bystander's video of the confrontation went viral online and Garner's repeated final words, "I can't breathe," became a flashpoint in countless rallies protesting police brutality around the country.
 
The Democrats are quick to emphasize that the chokehold used by Pantaleo had been banned by the NYPD, and that New York City's medical examiner ruled the death "a homicide due to compression of the chest and neck."
 
Convened in late 2014, a New York grand jury declined to bring charges. 
 
With that in mind, the New York Democrats want the DOJ to issue "a final prosecutorial decision be made prior to the arrival of the new administration."