Justice Department Overhauls Team Investigating Eric Garner Case: Report | NBC New York
The Death of Eric Garner

The Death of Eric Garner

Staten Island grand jury clears NYPD officer in chokehold case

Justice Department Overhauls Team Investigating Eric Garner Case: Report

Eric Garner's dying words of "I can't breathe" became a rallying cry at protests nationwide over police killings of black men



    File – Getty Images/AP
    A memorial is viewed for Eric Garner (inset) near where he died after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island.

    What to Know

    • Eric Garner died on July 17, 2014 after being put in a police chokehold

    • A New York grand jury declined to indict the officer on criminal charges

    • Federal officials have been investigating whether there is sufficient evidence to bring civil rights charges

    The Justice Department has overhauled the New York-based team probing the death of Eric Garner over a difference in opinion between officials in the city and in Washington on whether civil rights charges should be brought on the federal level, officials familiar with the case told The New York Times

    Garner, 43, died on July 17, 2014 after being put in a chokehold on a Staten Island street corner by an NYPD officer after he was stopped for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. The chokehold was captured on video, which showed him calling out "I can't breathe" as he was held down. Garner's dying words became a rallying cry at protests nationwide over police killings of black men amid a nationwide debate over police use of force. 

    Eric Garner's Mother 'Totally, Totally Outraged' by Chokehold Cop's $120K Pay

    [NY] Eric Garner's Mother 'Totally, Totally Outraged' by Chokehold Cop's $120K Pay
    Eric Garner's mother said she was "totally, totally outraged" over a report that the NYPD officer who put her son in a chokehold before his death in 2014 made nearly $120,000 in the last fiscal year. Gus Rosendale reports.
    (Published Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016)

    Federal authorities have been investigating whether there's evidence to warrant charges that the officers who confronted Garner deliberately violated his civil rights. But, according to the Times, the investigation has been slowed by disagreement between federal officials in New York and Washington. According to the Times, those investigating the case in New York recommended against bringing federal civil rights charges. Officials in Washington, however, thought there was sufficient evidence to do so. 

    In a rare shake-up, the Justice Department moved to switch out the investigative team in recent weeks, according to the Times, moving federal prosecutors in Brooklyn off the case and bringing in FBI agents from outside New York to take a fresh look at the evidence. 

    To bring charges in the Garner case, prosecutors would have to convince a federal grand jury that a crime occurred, according to the Times. That poses additional challenges in the wake of a New York grand jury's 2014 decision not to indict Pantaleo, who remains on desk duty, stripped of his gun and badge, while police officials await the results of the federal probe. 

    The city medical examiner found the chokehold by Pantaleo contributed to Garner's death. Chokeholds are banned under NYPD policy, but Pantaleo's lawyer said the officer had used a permissible takedown maneuver known as a seatbelt. Pantaleo's attorney has maintained his client didn't violate Garner's civil rights and that he was performing his duties, which he was trained to do. 

    Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, called the investigative shake-up "highly unusual and deeply troubling." 

    "Two separate investigative teams have already spent more than two years reviewing the evidence in this case, without any action. Now, it appears that they are taking a third bite at the apple in an effort to reach a predetermined outcome," Lynch said in a statement. "It is time to end this fishing expedition and let Police Officer Pantaleo move forward.” 

    Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department responded to the Times' request for comment. 

    Over the summer, on the second anniversary of Garner's death, Garner's sister, Ellisha Garner, said the years-long wait for the Justice Department to conclude its probe has been trying on the family, but that they'd wait as long as it takes to get justice. 

    2nd Anniversary of Eric Garner's Death

    [NY] 2nd Anniversary of Eric Garner's Death
    It's been two years since Eric Garner was killed in police custody. Garner died on July 17, 2014, after repeatedly saying "I can't breathe" as NYPD officers pinned him down on a Staten Island street. His death sparked protests. On Sunday, Garner's mother joined Al Sharpton and laid flowers on her son's grave. Joined by the mothers of other men killed by police, she said: "As you see, we have mothers lined up behind us. It's a sad club, but it's a club that we're all a part of. It's an exclusive club. We don't want any other members."
    (Published Monday, July 18, 2016)

    Garner's family reached a $5.9 million settlement with the city last year, but relatives said it was not a victory, adding they would keep pushing for federal charges.

    According to the Times, any movement in the federal case is likely months away. 

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