Justice Department will not bring charges in his death

Justice Department will not bring charges in his death

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department will not bring federal charges against a New York City police officer over the death of Eric Garner during a chaotic arrest that ignited nationwide protests five years ago.

The decision, described by officials familiar with the matter who was not authorized to comment publicly, marks the end of a civil rights probe into an episode that helped turn a national spotlight on how police officers use force against minorities. 

Federal authorities spent years investigating Garner’s death. Attorneys in the department’s Civil Rights Division advocated bringing a criminal charge, while prosecutors in Brooklyn argued against it. Attorney General William Barr made the final decision to not seek civil rights charges against officer Daniel Pantaleo, an official said.  

Garner, a 43-year-old black man, was accused of selling single cigarettes outside a store on Staten Island when Pantaleo attempted to arrest him. Garner gasped, “I can’t breathe,” after Pantaleo and other officers knocked him to the ground with Pantaleo holding him around the head and neck. 

Garner died soon after. His last words would become a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement whose members have staged demonstrations against alleged use of excessive force by police across the country.

“We’re here with heavy hearts because the DOJ has failed us,” Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said Tuesday. “Although we looked for better from them, five years ago my son said ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times and today we can’t breathe because they have let us down.”

The city medical examiner listed Garner’s cause of death as “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” The officer’s lawyer, Stuart London, and the police union have denied that Pantaleo used a choke-hold maneuver banned by the NYPD.

The city paid a $5.9 million civil settlement to Garner’s family. Pantaleo has been assigned to administrative duty since Garner’s death.

In 2017, the city’s Civilian Complaints Review Board determined that Pantaleo used excessive force. Federal authorities have been conducting a separate, years-long civil rights inquiry into Garner’s death. Pantaleo also is awaiting a verdict in a NYPD disciplinary proceeding.  

Wednesday is the five year anniversary of Garner’s death, and the Justice Department’s last opportunity to bring civil rights charges before the statute of limitations expires. 

More: Lawyer: NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo a ‘scapegoat’ in Eric Garner’s death

More: Eric Garner grand jury decision fuels protesters’ fury

Months after the arrest, a Staten Island jury declined to indict Pantaleo, a decision that set off angry demonstrations. Pantaleo has denied any wrongdoing.

Contributing: William Cummings

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