Future Cloudy for Eric Garner Chokehold Case - Diverse Health

Higher Education News and Jobs

Future Cloudy for Eric Garner Chokehold Case


by Tom Hays, Associated Press

NEW YORK — A federal civil rights investigation into the police chokehold death of Eric Garner has been moving forward in New York, but its future is uncertain as a U.S. attorney general with a law-and-order bent takes over the Justice Department.

Two people with inside knowledge of the probe say a federal grand jury in Brooklyn met as late as last week to hear testimony about Garner’s deadly confrontation with New York Police Department officers on Staten Island in 2014.

Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a slogan for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In recent weeks, officers who were present when Officer Daniel Pantaleo wrapped his arm around Garner’s neck have testified before the grand jury, according to the people, who were not authorized to discuss the secret proceedings and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Whether such testimony continues may depend on internal Justice Department politics.

The federal inquiry, which began after a state grand jury declined to charge Pantaleo in 2014, already stalled once last year when prosecutors based at the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn expressed doubt that there was enough evidence to make a criminal case against the officer.

Their hesitation resulted in the Justice Department, in the waning months of President Barack Obama’s term, dispatching Washington-based prosecutors to New York to forge ahead, according to a third person with knowledge of the case, who also was not authorized to discuss the inquiry and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

It is unclear whether new Attorney General Jeff Sessions will take an interest in the case. Both the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn declined to discuss it. Pantaleo’s attorney, Stuart London, also had no comment.

But Sessions has the power to freeze the investigation and order a review by Civil Rights Division under new leadership for the unit “that reflects his ideology,” said former federal prosecutor David Weinstein.

Sessions had been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s aggressive response to allegations of police misconduct, including imposing federal oversight on problem police departments across the country. At a 2015 Senate hearing, he said, “There’s a perception, not altogether unjustified, that the Civil Rights Division, goes beyond fair and balanced treatment.”

Given Sessions’ background, “the odds are longer it’s going to result in an indictment,” said Weinstein.
If Sessions’ Justice Department decides not to go forward, the inquiry could end by simply letting the 18-month limit for a special grand jury expire without a vote on an indictment, he said.

Trump last week told a conference of police department officials that their officers “are entitled to an administration that has their back.”

But in 2014 on the Fox News program “Fox & Friends,” he also singled out Pantaleo for criticism, though he didn’t identify him by name.

“That chokehold was terrible,” Trump said. “That cop was so aggressive, it was ridiculous. I don’t know where he came from, but that was a ridiculous situation to do. I mean if it’s anything like we see … you know what we saw was a terrible situation.”

Garner’s death was recorded on video. The 43-year-old was stopped by officers and accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. He denied it and complained of frequent harassment. When he resisted being handcuffed, the white officer put Garner, who was black, in an apparent chokehold. As Garner was taken to the ground, he repeatedly gasped, “I can’t breathe.”

The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office attributed Garner’s death to a chokehold, compression of his chest and poor health and ruled it a homicide. But police union officials and Pantaleo’s lawyer have argued that the officer used a takedown move taught by the police department, not a chokehold. New York police department policy prohibits chokeholds.

A lawyer for Garner’s family, Jonathan Moore, said that a criminal prosecution is long overdue and called on Sessions “to step up and show that he can be an attorney general for the people.”

Said Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr: “No matter who is in office I would hope for an unbiased look at my son’s case.”


Print Friendly

Related Articles

Digital Therapeutics: App-Based Healthcare Is the Future Last month, healthcare startup Omada Health secured a $50 million C round led by major insurer Cigna, which brings the 5-year-old company’s total funding to over $127 million. That kind of nine-figure investment isn’t unusual for a company with the ...
Bill Would Expand Care for Veterans Republican Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson has proposed legislation to increase access to privatized medical coverage for American veterans paid for by the federal government. Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, who chairs the committee, looks to accompli...
Nevada Moves to Combat Pot Bottleneck CARSON CITY, Nev. —- Nevada has moved to reduce supply problems at recreational marijuana stores that have faced overwhelming demand for newly legal pot and the possibility of their shelves going empty. Regulators approved emergency rules that wo...
Panel Asks FDA to Review Opioid Safety The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should review the safety and effectiveness of all opioids, and consider the real-world impacts the powerful painkillers have, not only on patients, but also on families, crime and the demand for heroin. That's...