A grand jury heard testimony Friday from a police officer involved in the chokehold death of an unarmed man, a development signaling that it could be close to deciding whether he should face criminal charges in the volatile case.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo spent about two hours giving the Staten Island panel his account of the videotaped death of Eric Garner, said the officer's attorney, Stuart London.
"We're thankful that they listened intently to his testimony," London said.
The grand jury began hearing evidence in late September. A spokesman for Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan declined to comment on when it's expected to vote on whether to indict the officer, but a decision is expected before the end of the year.
Pantaleo and other New York Police Department officers stopped Garner on the street on July 17 on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. A video shot by an onlooker and widely watched on the Internet shows the 43-year-old Garner telling the officers to leave him alone and refusing to be handcuffed.
Pantaleo responded by wrapping his arm around Garner's neck in an apparent chokehold, which is banned under NYPD policy. The heavyset Garner, who had asthma, is heard gasping, "I can't breathe." He later was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide and found that a chokehold contributed to it. An expert forensic pathologist hired by Garner's family, Dr. Michael Baden, agreed with the medical examiner's findings, saying there was hemorrhaging on Garner's neck indicative of neck compressions.
Police union officials and Pantaleo's lawyer have argued that the officer used a takedown move taught by the police department, not a chokehold, and that Garner's poor health was the main reason he died.
The Garner case has drawn comparisons to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, where another grand jury is considering criminal charges. Both cases have sparked protests and calls for federal prosecutors to bring civil rights charges against police.