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 Pantaleo placed him in a choke hold.
Garner, 43, was being arrested for suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes on July 17 when he died. 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 had died of a chokehold, a move that is banned by the NYPD, and ruled his death a homicide.
Garner’s attorney said in a statement Wednesday that the “family is very upset and disappointed that these officers are not getting indicted for any criminal conduct.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that Garner’s death “was a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure.”
“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.
Heightened police presence is expected throughout Staten Island and across the city to help quell demonstrations as they unfold. De Blasio cleared his schedule once the decision was announced, and he is expected to go to Staten Island to meet with officials and activists.
Pantaleo released a statement in response to the grand jury’s decision, expressing his regret for 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.”
State Assemblyman Karim Camara, chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, ridiculed the non-indictment as an “outrage,” but urged peaceful protest from New York residents.
“District Attorney Donovan’s failure to win an indictment against the police officer responsible for Eric Garner’s death is an outrage,” Camara said in a statement. “However, it’s important that we first remember that Mr. Garner’s life was lost and even an indictment would not have brought him back. Our thoughts and prayers should be with his family today.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, called for wholesale reform of the NYPD.
“The failure of the Staten Island Grand Jury to file an indictment in the killing of Eric Garner leaves New Yorkers with an inescapable question: How will the NYPD hold the officers involved accountable for his death? And what will Commissioner Bratton do to ensure that this is the last tragedy of its kind?,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman.
“Unless the Police Department aggressively deals with its culture of impunity and trains officers that they must simultaneously protect both safety and individual rights, officers will continue to believe that they can act without consequence.”
NYPD guidelines banned chokeholds in 1993, but many people have lodged complaints against the police department since then for continuing to use them. There were more than 1,000 complaints regarding the NYPD’s use of chokeholds between 2009 to 2013, according to the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board.
“Here we are, 20 years after the NYPD placed an absolute ban on chokeholds, and we still see that they are widely used and sometimes to used to deadly effect,” City Council Member Rory Lancman told The Huffington Post in July. “Clearly, we need to do more to deter use of chokeholds and hold people accountable when they are used.”
Garner’s family members had planned to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the city seeking $75 million in damages.
This is a developing story…