New York Daily News

September 25, 2014


 

Grand jury to begin hearing evidence Monday in NYPD custody death of Eric Garner 


The grand jury will weigh evidence in the case and determine whether to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was filmed on video putting Garner, 43, into what Police Commissioner Bill Bratton described as an “apparent chokehold.” The Medical Examiner has ruled Garner's July 17 death was a homicide caused by the chokehold and other factors.

BY ROCCO PARASCANDOLA

A grand jury is expected to be empaneled on Monday to begin hearing evidence in the police custody death of Eric Garner, sources said.

“It’s about time,” said Garner's mother, Gwen Carr.

Garner, 43, was killed by a police chokehold and compression of his chest during a July 17 confrontation on Bay St. in Staten Island that ensued after officers tried to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes.

One of those officers, Daniel Pantaleo, put Garner into what Police Commissioner Bill Bratton later described as an “apparent chokehold” — a move that is prohibited under NYPD protocol. He has been on modified assignment since the incident.

The Medical Examiner determined Garner's death was a homicide caused by the chokehold and compression of his chest as cops pinned him to a sidewalk. Asthma, obesity and cardiovascular disease were also factors, according to the autopsy results.

“I just hope the grand jury will make a good decision about the case," Garner's son, Eric Snipes, 19, told the Daily News. "The cop should be held accountable for the thing that he did."

Snipes said he believes Pantaleo would have been charged from the onset had his father not been a black man. “If anybody else was choked to death, he’d be incarcerated,” Snipes said.  

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch expressed confidence the grand jury would ultimately clear Pantaleo. "We are confident that if the evidence is fairly presented to the grand jury, they will conclude that while this was a sad and tragic event resulting from Mr. Garner’s resistance to arrest, the officers acted properly and within the scope of the law.”

The confrontation was captured on a cell phone video that exploded on the Internet after it was published online by The News. Garner's death sparked an ongoing debate about whether the NYPD, in an era of relative safety following two decades of significant reductions in crime, should continue its emphasis on “Broken Windows” policing — a strategy that holds that by enforcing minor, quality-of-life offenses police can make major felonies less likely to occur. Bratton is a proponent of the philosophy.

Garner’s death dominated the headlines in New York through Aug. 9, when a white cop in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson shot dead Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, sparking days of rioting and unrest. Brown had been suspected of robbing a convenience store prior to the encounter with police. The officer fired multiple rounds, and witnesses said Brown had raised his hands in surrender at one point. Combined with Garner's death, the tremendous media coverage of the unrest in Ferguson put a national emphasis on the topic of how blacks are treated by law enforcement.

A grand jury in the Brown case was empaneled 11 days after his death. Its original deadline was extended to Jan. 7.

Observers expect the grand jury in the Garner case to deliberate for at least a few weeks, if not for more than a month, before deciding whether Pantaleo should be indicted.

Both the office of Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan Jr., which is investigating Garner’s death, and Stu London, the lawyer for Pantaleo, had no comment on the grand jury news. The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

Members of the Garner and Brown families will be in Washington, D.C., on Thursday and will appear with the Rev. Al Sharpton at the National Press Club to renew calls for the Justice Department to take over both the Garner and Brown cases.

“I don’t have much hope in the local prosecutors because of politics,” Sharpton told The News. “They need police to help them with their cases. That is why we’re calling on the Justice Department to step in; they don’t need the local police to give them the evidence; they rely on the FBI.”

Carr, Garner's 65-year-old mother, said she’s concerned that the DA's office will hand-pick people to sit on the grand jury. She said she is also concerned that in presenting charges to the grand jury the DA's office will only ask for an indictment for manslaughter and not one for murder.

Donovan spoke to the family early on, she said, but the family's lawyers have prevented them from holding further discussions with Donovan or members of his staff as a push is made for the cases to be taken up by the feds.

“I just want them to be fair and rational and look at the evidence and give an honest view," Carr said. "It can’t be anything but a true bill.”

With Thomas Tracy and Tina Moore 

rparascandola@nydailynews.com