August 26, 2014

Staten Island DA to Call Grand Jury for ‘Garner’

Mayor Holds Quieter Summit


PATRICK J. LYNCH: Sharpton being disingenuous.  

The day after Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan announced that a grand jury would hear evidence in the Eric Garner case in September, Mayor de Blasio convened a roundtable of clergymen to develop ways to ease tensions resulting from Mr. Garner’s death.

Mr. Donovan issued a statement Aug.19 saying, “I assure the public that I am committed to conducting a fair, thorough, and responsible investigation into Mr. Garner’s death, and that I will go wherever the evidence takes me, without fear or favor.”

Cites ME’s Findings

He said he had decided to bring the case to a grand jury “based upon the investigation that my office has conducted...and after a careful review of the recent findings of the Medical Examiner regarding the cause and manner of Mr. Garner’s death.”

The Medical Examiner’s report has not been made public. The office issued a telegraphic statement Aug. 1 saying that Mr. Garner’s death was a homicide, caused by “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” Acute and chronic bronchial asthma, obesity and high blood pressure were listed as contributing factors.

Police unions dispute the assertion that one of the officers arresting Mr. Garner for selling loose cigarettes used a chokehold, and the Medical Examiner’s Office has refused to comment on reports that the autopsy found no damage to the throat and windpipe that would be expected if one was used.

Officers tackled Mr. Garner, who stood 6-foot-5 and weighed at least 350 pounds, after he announced he would not cooperate with an arrest and pushed away the hand of an officer trying to handcuff him. He died shortly after he was subdued, apparently of a heart attack.

Sharpton Wants Feds In

The Staten Island DA’s office is now the lead agency investigating Mr. Garner’s death. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who is advising the Garner family, and the dead man’s relatives were scheduled to meet last week with representatives of the office of U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch.

“The fact that a state grand jury has been impaneled does not change anything,” said Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney for the Garner family. “The family wants the Federal Government to come in and prosecute this case.”

Six Members of Congress have written U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking for a Federal probe.

“To the extent the NYPD is engaging in a racially-selective law-enforcement campaign pursuant to its broken-windows approach, the constitutional and Federal civil rights of black and Latino residents may be in jeopardy,” said the letter, signed by Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Yvette Clark, Gregory Meeks, Charles Rangel, Nydia Velazquez and Jose Serrano.

“Broken windows” refers to the NYPD strategy of aggressive enforcement against minor infractions such as selling loose cigarettes.

Mr. Holder has said his office is “closely monitoring” the city investigation. The Justice Department generally waits until local DAs are finished before deciding whether to step in.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said that now is not the time for the Feds to get involved. “How can you say you want a fair investigation, or the investigation that’s going on is not fair, before it’s completed?” he said. “How can you say we need to take this out of one District Attorney’s hands when the autopsy report has not been released? Al Sharpton just wants to walk through the streets and blame the police for everything that goes on in the world. That’s not the case.”

The two-hour interfaith meeting Aug. 20 was held at the residence of Cardinal Timothy Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and conducted privately, with participants answering questions from reporters at a press conference afterward.

No Reverend Al Show

That was a change from the last meeting on the Garner case that was convened by Mr. de Blasio, in which Mr. Sharpton and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton sat on either side of the Mayor and much of the meeting was held in public. Mr. de Blasio was criticized for appearing to give Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Bratton equal status, particularly because the activist unleashed several bursts of bombastic rhetoric at both the Mayor and the Police Commissioner.

“This group of leaders will help us perfect our approach to deepening our reforms, and bringing them to each and every neighborhood, and making the communities true partners with police,” Mr. de Blasio said at the Aug. 20 press conference.

“The city has seen something somber, the city has seen something sad, the city has seen something that has caused a lot of tears and sobbing,” Cardinal Dolan said. “God can bring something good out of that.”

“We did not come together...for a kumbaya moment, but rather we come seeking substantive solutions to a grave and enduring problem,” said Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, president of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York.

‘No Rush to Judgment’

Mr. Sharpton, three days before he led a march Aug. 23 to the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office, said, “We must show the world that we are mature enough to allow its citizenry to question those in authority, but respect them at the same time...And at the same time, there must not be a rush to judgment against all police...All police are not bad. Most police are not bad. And they should not be colored by the activities of individuals, any more than an individual black that does wrong should color me.”