Date: July 7, 2014
State: New York
Officer: Daniel Pantaleo (choker) and Justin D'Amico (partner)
Charged: NYPD filed formal departmental charges against Pantaleo for use of a chokehold and for restricting a man's breathing. Grand Jury did not indict him.
Eric Garner was selling untaxed cigarettes, also known as loose cigarettes, in Staten Island, NY, when he was approached by two plain-clothes officers, Daniel Pantaleo and Justin D’Amico. They were engaging in “broken-windows policing,” which means that if anyone is exhibiting visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder, they can be seen as a suspect. Garner had been previously approached by officers and arrested for selling the untaxed cigarettes, so he expressed his concern over the previous harassment by police. As the officers approached Garner to arrest him, he put his hands up saying “don’t touch me.” Pantaleo then took down Garner using a chokehold banned by NYPD. At least six officers are seen in eyewitness footage trying to arrest Garner, some of which had their knees on Garner’s back. Pantaleo can be seen choking Garner for nearly twenty seconds, then holding his head against the pavement. Garner says “I can’t breathe” eleven times, which is heard as a muffled cry in the graphic footage.
Garner was handcuffed and laid motionless on the ground, yet he did not receive immediate aid. Israel Miranda, president of the Uniformed E.M.T.s, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors F.D.N.Y. Local 2507, said, “If someone was choked out, probably they need oxygen right away.” Eric Garner was pronounced dead at the hospital approximately one hour later. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death as compression of the neck and chest, with Garner’s obesity, asthma, and hypertensive cardiovascular disease as contributing factors. He was 43 years old.
Initial police reports failed to cite the chokehold as a cause of death, but they later learned through the eyewitness footage that the chokehold was used. NYPD filed formal departmental charges against Pantaleo for use of a chokehold and for restricting a man’s breathing. The case went forward to a Staten Island Grand Jury. Unlike a petit jury, also known as trial jury, a grand jury doesn’t vote unanimously, rather ruling by majority. Thus, of a grand jury of 23 people, 12 votes are needed to make a decision. The Staten Island Grand Jury voted “no true bill,” meaning that there was no probable cause that Pantaleo committed a crime. US Attorney General Eric Holder announced in December 2014 that he would be moving forward with an investigation into federal civil rights law violations. He added that his department would conduct a complete review of material gathered during the local investigation. New York City reached a $5.9 million settlement with the Garner Family in 2015 for a wrongful death suit.
The case has had internal conflicts within the Department of Justice on whether or not to proceed with charges under the command of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions has been a vocal supporter of law enforcement, stating that he won’t conduct wide-ranging federal investigations of police departments, unlike the Obama Administration. NYPD announced on July 16, 2018, that they would continue with disciplinary action if the Department of Justice didn't announce disciplinary proceedings by the end of August 2018.
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