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Federal probe of Garner death not likely to end soon

Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, pictured in

Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, pictured in the center holding a photograph of her son, enters the governor's office as community groups, local leaders and families of victims of police killings call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue an executive order for a special prosecutor to examine and prosecute killings by police on July 7, 2015. Photo Credit: Bryan R. Smith

While the nation's eyes are on Chicago and the fatal police shooting of black teen Laquan McDonald, this week marks a year since the non-indictment in the NYPD-related death of Eric Garner, a black man from Staten Island.

A link between the two cases are damning videos, without which we'd have different outcomes. A less obvious and more intriguing one is the Justice Department's protocol of investigating potential civil rights violations after local authorities conclude their cases. The federal probes were cited by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Cook County, Illinois, State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to justify no action against cops in the deaths of Garner and McDonald.

After a judge ordered the release of a video showing Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke shoot McDonald 16 times, Van Dyke was indicted on a charge of murder. Alvarez said she would have indicted sooner but was waiting for the feds to complete their probe.

A Staten Island grand jury did not indict NYPD cop Daniel Pantaleo in Garner's death, which was captured on video. It showed Pantaleo's arms around Garner's neck. Bratton said he will take no action against Pantaleo -- who is on modified assignment -- until the feds complete their inquiry.

A Justice Department spokeswoman described the probe as ongoing.

PBA lawyer Stu London, who represents Pantaleo, points out that such investigations can take up to five years. NYPD Officer Craig Yokemick was acquitted in the 1998 death of Kenneth Banks; the officer threw a radio at Banks' head. The feds indicted Yokemick in 2003, and he pleaded guilty to two felony charges.

The feds are also investigating a fatal police shooting two years before Garner's death. In 2012, Officer Richard Haste fatally shot a fleeing black teenager, Ramarley Graham, inside his Bronx apartment. Haste's indictment was thrown out by a judge. A second grand jury declined to re-indict him. Like Pantaleo, he remains on modified assignment.

Police sources say Bratton is using the civil rights investigation as cover not to discipline Pantaleo now.

One of the sources, who's not authorized to speak publicly about the case, said: "By not proceeding departmentally until the feds complete their investigation, he's giving Pantaleo the benefit of the doubt."

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