No Federal Charges Against Officer in Eric Garner Case

The Justice Department announced it will not file criminal Civil Rights charges against New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. The decision was announced a day before the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death while being fatally choked by the white police officer on the streets of the city.

Richard P. Donoghue, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, announced on July 16 that the government had decided not to bring charges against Pantaleo. The Justice Department (DOJ) had a five-year deadline to file some of the possible charges against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer, The New York Times reported.

Attorney General William Barr siding with the DOJ team from New York over the Civil Rights Division in Washington, DC finalized the decision not to prosecute Pantaleo, CNN reported. Donoghue said Garner’s death was a tragedy but claimed “the evidence does not support charging Police Officer Pantaleo with a federal Civil Rights violation.”

Donoghue told reporters that Barr was concerned prosecutors could not successfully prove Pantaleo acted willfully.

Barr reached this conclusion after watching video of Garner’s death and quizzing both groups of attorneys.

“This is the highest standard of intent imposed by law,” Donoghue said. “While willfulness may be inferred from blatantly wrongful conduct such as a gratuitous hit to the head, an officer’s mistake, fear, misperception, or even poor judgment does not constitute willful conduct under federal criminal Civil Rights law.”

The government’s decision puts an end to the Garner family’s hope that Pantaleo could face any criminal charges related to Garner’s death. DOJ investigators have been reviewing Garner’s death since 2014, when a grand jury in New York failed to indict Pantaleo.

Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, blasted prosecutors’ decision after meeting with them, The New York Times reported. Carr, who was with Rev. Al Sharpton, said she would continue to push to hold Pantaleo and the other officers involved accountable.

“We might not never know justice in the DOJ, but I think there will be justice, and we’re going to keep fighting,” Carr said. “We’re not going away, so you can forget that.”

Sharpton added:

“Five years ago, Eric Garner was choked to death; today the federal government choked Lady Justice, and that is why we are outraged.”

In 2015, New York City settled with Garner’s estate for $5.9 million, CNN reported. Garner’s family has also called on the city to fire the Staten Island officer. The NYPD brought departmental charges against Pantaleo, who could be fired from his job or lose vacation days if he is found guilty of using a chokehold and restricting Garner’s breathing.

The 34-year-old police officer was placed on desk duty without a shield or gun since Garner’s death. He has been allowed to collect pay and pension benefits, The New York Times noted.

The DOJ’s decision was also met with criticism by activists, politicians, and Garner’s supporters online. Artist Common called the decision a “grave injustice” and said he was sending Garner’s family “love and light.”

“Just devastating. The nation watched an unarmed, non-violent Black man choked to death by a white police [officer] and no one will be held accountable. Our criminal justice system is broken. We will not stop fighting,” Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, tweeted.

“This is an injustice,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “We have a responsibility to protect our citizens — and to hold police accountable when they fail. No one is safe in a country with a broken criminal justice system. My heart goes out to Eric Garner’s family today.”

Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wrote, “This decision is wrong, unjust and painful reminder of just how broken our criminal justice system is. Eric Garner should be alive today. I pray his loved ones can find peace.”

Garner, who was Black, was killed on a Staten Island sidewalk while being arrested for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. Video of the fatal arrest shows Pantaleo wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck from behind in a chokehold and taking him to the ground. Garner gasped, “I can’t breathe,” as Pantaleo held on to him and other officers put weight on him.

A medical examiner found that the pressure on Garner’s neck and chest prompted a fatal asthma attack. Garner was just 43 years old.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.