Published time: December 03, 2014 23:29
Edited time: December 04, 2014 00:57
The US Justice Department announced that it is opening a federal civil rights investigation into the death of Eric Garner, who was killed by a chokehold at the hands of police.
US Attorney General Eric Holder made the announcement Wednesday evening, in the wake of a grand jury decision not to indict the police officer responsible for placing Garner in a chokehold. The investigation will consider whether or not police violated Garner’s civil rights.
Prosecutors will conduct an independent, thorough, and fair investigation, Holder said, including a “complete review” of material gathered during the local investigation.
In order to bring charges against New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the Justice Department will need enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Garner’s rights were violated, and that Pantaleo did so “willfully.”
Garner was killed back in July, when multiple officers targeted him for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. The 43-year-old Staten Island man was placed in a chokehold by police who tried to arrest him, then taken to the ground. Video footage of the incident was captured by a bystander, during which Garner can be heard yelling that he can’t breathe, but it doesn’t seem as if officers responded to his complaints.
His death was declared a homicide and a grand jury was convened to determine whether Pantaleo would face criminal charges. On Wednesday, however, the jury decided not to indict him.
A grand jury in Staten Island voted Wednesday not to indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, a black man who died after being placed in a chokehold.
Garner, 43, died July 17 while he was being arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes. In a video of the arrest, which has since gone viral, Garner screams “I can’t breathe!” multiple times until his body goes limp. A medical examiner later said that he died of a chokehold, a move that is banned by the NYPD, and ruled his death a homicide.
Garner’s attorney said Wednesday that the “family is very upset and disappointed that these officers are not getting indicted for any criminal conduct.”
Pantaleo said in a statement Wednesday that he regretted Garner’s death.
“I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” Pantaleo said. “It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Garner’s death “a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure,” and said he would continue to work to decrease the use of excessive force among officers.
“This is a subject that is never far from my family’s minds – or our hearts,” he said. “And Eric Garner’s death put a spotlight on police-community relations and civil rights – some of most critical issues our nation faces today.”
The decision in the Garner case comes just over a week after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. A series of protests erupted nationwide immediately following the decision in Ferguson, and New York officials braced for similar protests on Wednesday.