Attorney General William Barr decides not to charge officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
In 2014, White New York City police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, reportedly put Eric Garner, a black man, into a chokehold and caused his death. Garner had pleaded for him to let go, saying, “I can’t breathe” just prior to losing his life. A civil rights outcry ensued over the alleged hate crime and police brutality, but federal prosecutors just announced they won’t bring criminal charges against Pantaleo.
The decision to end the investigation without charges was made by Attorney General William Barr and was announced the day before the incident’s five-year anniversary right before the statute of limitations was set to expire. Barr determined “the evidence wasn’t sufficient to make a case,” according to a Justice Department official.
U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue, of the Eastern District of New York, said, “While the death was tragic, there was insufficient evidence to prove that Pantaleo or any other officers willfully violated Garner’s civil rights.” He added, “Even if we could prove that Officer Pantaleo’s hold of Mr. Garner constituted unreasonable force, we would still have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Pantaleo acted willfully in violation of the law.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, was very upset, stating publicly, “We are here with heavy hearts, because the DOJ has failed us. Five years ago, my son said ‘I can’t breathe’ eleven times. Today, we can’t breathe.”
Reverend Al Sharpton asked the New York Police Department (NYPD) to terminate Pantaleo. The department placed the officer on desk duty since 2014 and is awaiting the results of a disciplinary hearing to determine whether Pantaleo will be able to keep his position.
Garner was being arrested by Pantaleo over alleged sales of untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island, New York. When a state grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in December 2014, public demonstrations broke out in New York and elsewhere. A male demonstrator who was angry about the case ambushed and fatally shot two New York City police officers.
A senior Justice Department official said, “prosecutors watched video of the confrontation between Garner and police countless times but weren’t convinced Pantaleo acted willfully in the seconds after the chokehold was applied.”
Over the course of the investigation, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York recommended no charges, while the U.S. Justice Department civil rights prosecutors recommended charging Pantaleo. Barr made the ultimate decision.
“Scapegoating a good and honorable officer, who was doing his job in the manner he was taught, will not heal the wounds this case has caused for our entire city,” said Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, now running for president, said there have been significantly changes made over the past five years. “Reforms over the last five years have improved relations between our police and our communities,” he said.
However, police reform advocates have argued the changes have been insufficient.
Joo Hyun-Kang, the director of Communities for Police Reform, said of the decision it was “outrageous but not shocking.” While, Hawk Newsome, the head of New York area Black Lives Matter chapter said, “It’s America, man. As a black man in America I have no expectation that we will receive justice in court without radical change in this country.”