Federal prosecutors announced Tuesday they will not file charges against a New York City Police Department officer in the controversial death of Eric Garner — which drew national outrage five years ago.
Garner, 43, died in 2014 after he was forcibly arrested by officer Daniel Pantaleo for selling untaxed “loose” cigarettes, a misdemeanor offense. A medical examiner said at Pantaleo’s police disciplinary hearing last month the pressure on Garner’s neck and chest led to an asthma attack that killed him. The arresting officers testified in May they thought Garner was malingering.
Justice Department prosecutors had until Wednesday to decide whether to file charges, but ultimately declined due to a lack of evidence showing Pantaleo violated Garner’s civil rights. U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue told reporters there was also no evidence to show the officer intentionally violated the law.
The decision came one day before the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death in Staten Island. The incident was photographed by a witness, and the footage heard Garner telling Pantaleo and another officer he was having trouble breathing — leading to a national movement with the tag phrase “I can’t breathe.” Pantaleo denied using a chokehold, a banned tactic that for decades drew controversy at police departments nationwide.
The decision Tuesday ends any possibility of a prosecution for Pantaleo, 34. A New York grand jury declined to charge him, and the city settled with Garner’s family for nearly $6 million.
Pantaleo does, however, face disciplinary action from the NYPD, including possible termination. Garner’s daughter emerged from the courthouse Tuesday shouting, “fire Pantaleo!”
Pantaleo has been on desk duty since the man’s death, which was later publicized on social media and attracted support from activists, celebrities and pro athletes.
The Justice Department’s involvement in the case had survived now four attorneys general, starting with Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch in the Obama administration and Jeff Sessions and William Barr in the Trump administration.
While the Justice Department’s civil rights division often took the lead in possible charges against the officers, federal prosecutors and FBI agents in New York were more skeptical of bringing a case.
Pantaleo had been the main focus of the investigation because it was he in the video with his arm around Garner’s. The officer’s attorneys argued the maneuver was a takedown hold.
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