News Feds won't bring civil rights charges in Eric Garner's death The case become a flashpoint on issues of race and police use of force after a cellphone video showed Eric Garner gasping, "I can't breathe" as he was subdued. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn announced Tuesday they would not bring civil rights charges against NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the 2014 death of Eric Garner during an arrest, closing the criminal investigation of a case that triggered one of New York City’s most searing debates over race and policing. The decision, announced at a news conference an hour after a meeting between prosecutors and members of Garner’s family, was immediately denounced by family adviser the Rev. Al Sharpton as a “disgrace and judicial malpractice” by the Department of Justice. (Credit: Newsday / Matthew Chayes; Corey Sipkin) By John Riley and Nicole Fuller email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Updated July 16, 2019 8:20 PM Print Share fbShare Tweet Email Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn announced Tuesday they would not bring civil rights charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the 2014 death of Eric Garner during an arrest, closing the criminal investigation of a case that triggered one of New York City’s most searing debates over race and policing. The decision, announced at a news conference an hour after a meeting between prosecutors and members of Garner’s family, was immediately denounced by family adviser the Rev. Al Sharpton as a “disgrace and judicial malpractice” by the Department of Justice. “We’re here with heavy hearts,” said Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, “because the DOJ has failed us.” Garner, 43, was killed on Staten Island on July 17, 2014, after Pantaleo put an arm around his neck and took him down from behind as Garner resisted an arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. A cellphone video of the incident went viral, showing Garner gasping “I can’t breathe” as he was subdued. Richard Donoghue, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said after a 5-year probe, prosecutors concluded Pantaleo used legal maneuvers to try to control a resisting Garner and only used an NYPD- banned “chokehold” accidentally for seven seconds, making it impossible to prove he acted willfully as the federal law requires for prosecution. “After an exhaustive investigation the Department of Justice has concluded that insufficient evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the police officers who arrested Eric Garner … acted in violation of the federal criminal civil rights act,” Donoghue said at a packed news conference. Donoghue, who said Attorney Gen. William Barr made the final decision, called the death a “tragedy” but said aspects of the incident — including Garner’s 400-pound size, Pantaleo’s initial efforts to use “arm bar” and a “seat belt” techniques on Garner, and his release of the chokehold before Garner said “I can’t breathe” — made willfulness unprovable. “This is the highest standard of intent imposed by law,” he said. “While willfulness may be inferred from blatantly wrongful conduct … an officer’s mistake, fear, misperception or poor judgment does not constitute willful misconduct.” Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, lauded the decision. “It is always a tragedy when there is a loss of life,” he said. “Officer Panteleo is gratified that the Justice Department took the time to carefully review the actual evidence in this case rather than the lies and inaccuracies which have followed this case since its inception.” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch also offered praise. "Scapegoating a good and honorable officer, who was doing his job in the manner he was taught, will not heal the wounds this case has caused for our entire city,” Lynch said in a statement. But the New York Civil Liberties Union said the case fit an all-too-familiar pattern — “police officers who kill unarmed black men rarely face any measure of accountability” — and activists at a protest at City Hall warned the city could face civil disruptions. Two protests are scheduled for Wednesday. Political officials were also critical. Mayor Bill de Blasio complained about the length of time it took to conclude the federal probe. "Years ago, we put our faith in the federal government to act,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We won’t make that mistake again.” Attorney Gen. Letitia James, the city’s public advocate in 2014. said: “The entire world saw the same devastating video five years ago, and our eyes did not lie. Today’s inaction reflects a DOJ that has turned its back on its fundamental mission — to seek and serve justice.” Although Tuesday’s decision ended the criminal probe, Pantaleo faces potential sanctions from a long delayed NYPD disciplinary hearing completed this month. His salary rose on modified duty after the Garner incident, but he could be fired if found guilty of departmental violations. An NYPD spokesman declined to comment Tuesday on the federal decision. The federal investigation began after Garner’s death five years ago and a decision by Staten Island’s district attorney to not charge any officers with manslaughter or other charges triggered street protests in New York and elsewhere, and inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, which took Garner's dying words as a rallying cry. Initially conducted by prosecutors and FBI agents based in New York, the probe was moved to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington amid reports that local prosecutors didn’t think a case was merited. No charges were filed by the Obama administration, leaving the case to the Trump administration. Although a city medical examiner found that Garner’s death was a homicide due to a chokehold and chest compression, Donoghue said other experts cited factors including underlying medical conditions — Garner had asthma — and the 5-year statute of limitations on civil rights violations that only cause bodily injury will run out on Wednesday. Donoghue said he regretted the wait till the last minute to resolve the case, citing extended discussions that involved several U.S. attorneys in Brooklyn and five attorney generals. “Obviously it was a difficult decision,” he said. “This should never have taken as long as it did.” Donoghue said careful review of the video showed that at a key moment, as Pantaleo tried a legal “rear takedown” with his arm across Garner’s chest, the two fell against a window and Pantaleo “to maintain a hold” briefly wrapped the arm around Garner’s neck as they crashed to the ground. “Officer Pantaleo maintained that hold on Mr. Garner for a total of approximately seven seconds,” he said. “ … As has been widely reported, Mr. Garner stated, ‘I can’t breathe,’ but I would point out that he made this statement only after he fell to the sidewalk and after Officer Pantaleo released his grip.” But Sharpton said Donoghue’s meeting with the family was poorly timed at the anniversary of Garner’s death — “We don’t want your sympathy, we want justice!” one of Garner’s children told the prosecutors — and complained that the video was being distorted. “How much do you have to investigate when a child can look at that video, [and hear] ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times?” Sharpton asked. “So are we saying Eric Garner didn’t have the civil right to breathe on that street that day?” When the family emerged from the meeting, Garner’s daughter Emerald reacted with raw emotion, screaming to television cameras, “Pantaleo needs to be fired! He needs to be fired!” Carr, Garner's mother, said the family would continue to fight for justice. “Make no mistake about it, we’re going to still push,” she said, echoing the call for NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill to “make the right decision” and remove Pantaleo and the other officers involved in Garner’s arrest from the force. “The streets of New York City are not safe with them walking around,” she said. With Matthew Chayes and Anthony M. DeStefano By John Riley and Nicole Fuller email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org John Riley covers courts in New York City for Newsday. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter More on this topic Decision on Garner death may aid cop in NYPD trial: LawyerThe decision may work in the officer's favor in his ongoing departmental trial, said the cop's defense attorney. 'No justice, no peace': Protests mark 5 years since Garner's deathThe demonstrations were held just one day after the Department of Justice announced it would not bring civil rights charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Comments We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.