Five years ago, Eric Garner died on Staten Island while being arrested by New York City police. Mr. Garner suffocated during the arrest. Video of the encounter appeared to show that a police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, applied an unlawful chokehold on Mr. Garner. Autopsy results indicated that death occurred due to an asthma attack precipitated by pressure on his neck and chest. The United States Attorney in Brooklyn, New York, Richard Donoghue, today announced a decision by Attorney General William Barr not to bring civil rights charges against the officer applying the hold. As a result, no officers have been charged in the death of Mr. Garner. The Justice Department began investigating the death after a Staten Island state grand jury in 2014 refused to vote an indictment of Pantaleo in the case.
The United States Attorney stated that the government did not believe that it could sustain its burden to prove that Pantaleo in employing the hold around Garner’s neck made a willful decision to apply the chokehold. Because that element of “willfulness” would be essential to obtaining a conviction, Donoghue announced that the case would not go forward. He said that investigators had carefully reviewed video replays of the confrontation that led to Mr. Garner’s death.
New York City Police Department regulations prohibit the use of chokeholds to subdue individuals. Testifying in his own defense before the state grand jury, Pantaleo swore that he did not employ a chokehold. Instead, the officer testified that he had attempted to utilize an allowable hold to take Mr. Garner to the ground. It appears that federal authorities credited the officer’s testimony or at least determined that it was credible enough to defeat the “willfulness” element needed for conviction.
The alleged crime committed by Mr. Garner that resulted in his killing was the selling of untaxed cigarettes. Officer Pantaleo has spent the last five years on desk duty without his shield or weapon. However, he has continued to accrue pay and pension benefits.