A new team at the Justice Department has been assigned to the investigation into Eric Garner’s death while in police custody in Staten Island, according to a report.
The new team of agents could potentially jump-start the case that has been stalled up until now, officials told The New York Times.
Garner died on July 17, 2014, when police tried to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island. In the process, Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed Garner in an apparent chokehold, which is against the NYPD’s policy.
Garner’s cries of “I can’t breathe” sparked a nationwide discussion on police force and tactics and became a rallying cry for protesters.
Pantaleo, who remains on modified duty, was not indicted in Staten Island but still faces possible federal civil rights charges. He has yet to face a departmental review.
Federal prosecutors had started presenting evidence to a grand jury but the investigation stalled as officials were at odds on whether or not to bring charges, according to the Times.
Federal prosecutors and FBI officials were against charging Pantaleo, while the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department argued the opposite, according to the paper.
Recently, the FBI agents who have been investigating the case were replaced with agents from outside New York, and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are no longer assigned to the case, according to the paper.
“Politics should never play a role when you’re determining the fate of someone’s life,” said Stuart London, the attorney for Pantaleo. “If the Department of Justice is ignoring seasoned prosecutors and FBI agents and going in the direction of someone who will agree to bring a case, that’s really worse than anything Pantaleo did.”
London said prosecution of Pantaleo wasn’t merited because it was a “simple street encounter” where the intent was to make a lawful arrest. “It’s just not there, even though people politically want it to be,” he said.
Spokeswomen for the Justice Department, the New York FBI office and Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers declined to comment.