No Federal Civil Rights Charges In Eric Garner Case

July 16, 2019 - 1:45 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The Department of Justice on Tuesday announced it will not bring federal charges against the New York City police officer in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner.

Garner's family arrived at the U.S. Attorney's Office in the morning to hear the news that had already leaked out before they reached the front door — that the federal investigation has ended without civil rights charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard Donahue noted that Attorney General William Barr “thoroughly considered this case and made the decision himself.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James called the decision a "disservice to justice" and said Barr "failed the Garner family and failed Americans as a whole."

“What we saw, and what the nation saw was a murder and our eyes do not lie," James said. "We need to reform our criminal justice system, we need to reform grand jury minutes and the grand jury proceeding it should not be sacrosanct particularly given the fact that district attorneys and police officers have a relationship — that's the conflict of interest, and we need to demand justice for this family once and for all because the nation's eyes did not lie and this clearly is not in the interest of justice."

Patrick Lynch, the head of the Police Benevolent Association, noted that Garner’s death was an “undeniable tragedy” but that Officer Daniel Pantaleo “did not cause it.”

According to Lynch, Pantaleo was just doing his job “in the manner he was taught.” He says turning a “good and honorable officer” into a scapegoat will not “heal the wounds” of the “entire city.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was a “mistake” for the city to wait years for federal prosecutors to investigate Garner’s death before beginning disciplinary proceedings.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said Police Commissioner James O’Neill will decided by Aug. 31 if Pantaleo will be fired.

The Rev. Al Sharpton called the decision by the DOJ "a moral disgrace'' and "judicial malpractice.''

"This decision says that federal civil rights are not protected no matter what the evidence may be," Sharpton said.

Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, says the government "has let us down.''

"We're here with heavy hearts because the DOJ has failed us," Carr said. "This is not an easy fight, but we kept on pushing. And make no mistake about it, we're going to still push. You can pushback, but we're pushing forward because this is not the end."


At City Hall, Carr called on Mayor de Blasio to fire Pantaleo, saying: "You don’t have to wait for anything else, you see the DOJ, they failed us – so now you come forward and do your job."

She was joined by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who also encouraged the mayor and police commissioner to relieve Pantaleo of his duties. 

"It is time to finally, finally do the right thing for Eric Garner and for his family,” the council speaker said. 

The decision was announced the day before the five-year anniversary of Garner’s death and the deadline to file federal charges.

Cell phone video of Garner’s 2014 arrest on a Staten Island street for selling untaxed, loose cigarettes shocked the city and his final words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Disagreements among prosecutors and the FBI allowed the civil rights case to languish. It stalled during the tenure of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch who eventually moved the case forward, but it stalled once again when President Donald Trump took office.

A medical examiner ruled Garner's death was a homicide, but a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict any of the officers involved.

Pantaleo was tried in the spring by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an NYPD oversight agency, who argued he recklessly used a chokehold on Garner. The judge in the case has not yet issued a verdict. He has remained on desk duty since the Garner incident.

As Commissioner O'Neill considers if Pantaleo will keep his job with the NYPD, Carr called on the department to "make the right decision."

"We're asking the commissioner to make the right decision that Officer Pantaleo and all the officers who were involved in my son's death that day need to be off the force," Carr said. "The streets of New York City are not safe with them walking around."

The NYPD said the decision by the Justice Department does not affect the internal department disciplinary case against Pantaleo, which is proceeding.

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