A grand jury began hearing evidence Monday to determine whether there will be criminal charges in the chokehold death of an unarmed Staten Island man whose videotaped confrontation with police sparked outrage, union officials said.
The proceedings come five weeks after the medical examiner found that a banned chokehold used by Officer Daniel Pantaleo contributed to the death of 43-year-old Eric Garner. The officer's lawyer, Stuart London, said he expects it will take at least a month for the panel to reach a decision.
"My client is gratified that the grand jury process has begun," London said. "He looks forward to a full, fair and thorough investigation."
London added that the officer "believes that he committed no misconduct."
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, predicted Pantaleo would be cleared. The union has insisted the officer used a takedown move — not a chokehold — that's taught by the Police Department.
"If the evidence is presented fairly, without emotion from the street, as it is in a courtroom — just the facts, ma'am — I believe there will be a no true bill," Lynch said.
A spokesman for Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan Staten declined to comment.
Pantaleo and other NYPD officers stopped Garner on the street on July 17 on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes. A video shot by an onlooker that went viral online shows Garner telling the officers to leave him alone and refusing to be handcuffed.
Pantaleo responded by appearing to put him in a chokehold, which is banned under police policy. The heavyset Garner, who had asthma, is heard gasping, "I can't breathe." He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
In a previous statement, Donovan said his decision to take the case to a grand jury was based on his office's investigation and the medical examiner's ruling that the death was a homicide caused by neck compressions from the chokehold, chest compression and Garner's prone position while being restrained.
Last month, thousands of people turned out for a march on Staten Island to demand justice in Garner's death. His family has called for a federal civil rights investigation.