Feds will not charge officer who killed Eric Garner

Feds will not charge officer who killed Eric Garner
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Federal prosecutors will not charge a New York City police officer for the 2014 death of Eric Garner, according to The New York Times.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed Garner, an unarmed black man, in a headlock on July 17, 2014, while attempting to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner was heard saying “I can’t breathe” as he died.


Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death, would have been the deadline to file certain civil rights or criminal charges against Pantaleo.

Pantaleo has denied the maneuver was a chokehold, which is prohibited under NYPD policy, but a New York City medical examiner has ruled Garner died of an asthma attack caused by a chokehold. The medical examiner also ruled Garner’s death a homicide — in other words, caused by another’s deliberate actions regardless of whether the killing was deliberate.

Garner's was one of several deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police that galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement, and his dying words became a frequent rallying cry by anti-police brutality activists.

The decision comes about a month after the NYPD concluded a separate disciplinary trial to determine whether Pantaleo should be sanctioned over the hold. The final decision whether to fire or otherwise discipline Pantaleo lies with Commissioner James O’Neill, who will not act until the police administrative judge in that hearing issues a verdict.

“The NYPD announced in July 2018 that the internal disciplinary case against Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo would proceed without further delay. Today’s announcement by the US Department of Justice does not affect this process," Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Phillip Walzak told The Hill in a statement.

Pantaleo has been on desk duty since Garner’s death. A state grand jury declined to indict him later in 2014.

The federal investigation into Garner’s death began under then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderObamas discuss pandemic, voting, anxiety and community in new podcast Joy Reid debut delivers 2.6 million viewers for MSNBC The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Facebook — Republicans rejigger summer convention plans MORE, who believed there was sufficient evidence to charge Pantaleo despite the difficulty of prosecuting police for deaths in custody, according to the Times.

Holder’s successor, Loretta Lynch, allowed the Department of Justice's (DOJ) civil rights division to lead the investigation and assigned a new team from outside New York to the case.

After President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE took office, however, then-Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinFBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Sally Yates to testify as part of GOP probe into Russia investigation Graham releases newly declassified documents on Russia probe MORE did not allow the department to indict despite a recommendation by civil rights prosecutors, believing the government’s case would be doomed at trial, according to the Times.

The executive director of The Gathering for Justice, a racial justice organization founded by singer and activist Harry Belafonte, called the DOJ's decision a "major miscarriage of justice."

"[F]or the Department of Justice to announce this one day before the 5th anniversary of Eric Garner's death sends a disrespectful message that black bodies are dispensable to the NYPD and all who’ve had the power to act over the past five years," Carmen Perez told The Hill in a statement.

"Millions of us watched Eric beg for his life, eleven times, while Officer Pantaleo and other officers around him ignored his cries. Our communities will never rebuild trust in the police to protect and serve without accountability, and we will look to Mayor de Blasio to take real action in response to this devastating decision from the DOJ," she added.

--Updated at 12 p.m.