Eric Garner Death Case Will Go to Grand Jury, Staten Island District Attorney Says

The chokehold death of 43-year-old Eric Garner will head to a grand jury, Staten Island's chief prosecutor said Tuesday.

District Attorney Daniel Donovan said in a statement that his office has reviewed the recent findings of the medical examiner, which determined Garner died of neck compression from a chokehold and labeled his death a homicide, and decided that "it is appropriate to present evidence regarding circumstances of his death to a Richmond County Grand Jury."

Donovan said the court granted his application to impanel a grand jury on Monday, and he plans to begin presenting evidence in the Garner case in September. He declined to say what criminal charges the grand jury might consider, or against whom any charges might be filed.

The case has garnered national attention and led to cries for the arrests of the officers who were trying to cuff Garner in Tompkinsville July 17 for selling untaxed cigarettes.

"I assure the public that I am committed to conducting a fair, thorough, and responsible investigation into Mr. Garner's death, and that I will go wherever the evidence takes me, without fear or favor," Donovan said in a statement.

Shortly after Garner died, one officer was stripped of his gun and badge pending an internal NYPD investigation and another was placed on desk duty. Two paramedics and two EMTs were suspended without pay after allegedly failing to provide CPR in a timely manner.

An attorney for Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who lost his badge after he was seen in amateur cellphone video allegedly putting Garner in a chokehold, said the Staten Island district attorney's office notified him of the grand jury. Lawyer Stuart London said he hadn't decided if his client would testify if called to the stand.

"I haven't made any decision," London said. "It is premature to say. It is something I weigh heavily and carefully." 

The NYPD said in a statement it would "continue to cooperate" with the district attorney's office, and the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association said the union was encouraged the process was moving forward.

"We are confident that a fair and impartial grand jury that is allowed to conduct its deliberations based on facts and not emotion or political considerations will see that justice is served," Pat Lynch said in a statement.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been a vocal critic of police in the case, said he and the Garner family would continue to push for a federal investigation into Garner's death. Sharpton said he, Garner's family and their attorneys would meet with a U.S. attorney Thursday to discuss the matter.

In addition to running the National Action Network, Sharpton is a talk show host on MSNBC, which is owned by WNBC's parent company, NBCUniversal.

In an exclusive interview with NBC 4 New York last week, Donovan said he had no intention of handing the case over. He said he assigned eight assistant district attorneys and 10 non-NYPD detectives to investigate the case -- the greatest amount of resources allocated to one case in his tenure. 

“In my 11 years in office, this is the biggest allocation of resources I’ve ever used in any matter,” Donovan said.

The medical examiner’s office ruled Garner’s death a homicide, saying neck compression from a chokehold killed him. Asthma, heart disease and obesity all contributed to the 43-year-old’s death, the medical examiner determined.

Donovan also said that members of the NYPD, who’ve been accused of condoning the apparent chokehold, are entitled to the truth, not opinion.

“The police department deserves to be treated fairly as well,” he said. “They deserve answers, too.” 

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