Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn announced Tuesday they would not bring civil rights charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the 2014 death of Eric Garner during an arrest, closing the criminal investigation of a case that triggered one of New York City’s most searing debates over race and policing.
The decision, announced at a news conference an hour after a meeting between prosecutors and members of Garner’s family, was immediately denounced by family adviser the Rev. Al Sharpton as a “disgrace and judicial malpractice” by the Department of Justice.
“We’re here with heavy hearts,” said Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, “because the DOJ has failed us.”
Garner, 43, died on Staten Island on July 17, 2014, after Pantaleo put an arm around his neck and took him down from behind as Garner resisted an arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. A cellphone video of the incident went viral, showing Garner gasping “I can’t breathe” as he was subdued.
Richard Donoghue, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said after a 5-year probe, prosecutors concluded Pantaleo used legal maneuvers to try to control a resisting Garner and only used an NYPD- banned “chokehold” accidentally for seven seconds, making it impossible to prove he acted willfully as the federal law requires for prosecution.
“After an exhaustive investigation the Department of Justice has concluded that insufficient evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the police officers who arrested Eric Garner … acted in violation of the federal criminal civil rights act,” Donoghue said at a packed news conference.
Donoghue, who said Attorney General William Barr made the final decision, called the death a “tragedy” but said aspects of the incident — including Garner’s 400-pound size, Pantaleo’s initial efforts to use “arm bar” and a “seat belt” techniques on Garner, and his release of the chokehold before Garner said “I can’t breathe” — made willfulness unprovable.