Washington, DC – Federal civil rights prosecutors have been pushing for the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) to charge a New York cop in the 2014 death of Eric Garner, but officials have not sought an indictment because many believe the case against the officer cannot be won.
Garner was arrested by New York Police Department (NYPD) officers on July 17, 2014, after police stopped him for selling individual loose cigarettes on a city sidewalk.
He resisted arrested, and fought with officers who struggled to take the 350-pound man into custody.
In the process of subduing Garner, video taken by witnesses showed that NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo had his arm around Garner's neck, and pressed his face against the sidewalk.
Garner repeatedly told officers “I can’t breathe,” a phrase that became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter in the months that followed.
Officer Pantaleo later said he tried to use a “seatbelt maneuver” on Garner, and did not mean to put the much larger man into a choke hold.
Garner lost consciousness on the sidewalk, and died in the hospital an hour later from a medical emergency.
Eric Garner's autopsy report showed no damage to any area of Garner’s neck, and it was determined that he died of a medical emergency induced by officers who were arresting him. The medical examiner declared it was a homicide.
A New York Grand Jury declined to indict on any criminal charges.
The federal inquiry that has dragged on for years has split the Justice Department in half between those who want to go after the officer and those who think success with the case would be impossible, according to The New York Times.
Officer Pantaleo has remained on desk duty for NYPD since the incident, because the department’s internal investigation will not be completed until the DoJ has made its final determination.
The New York Times reports that law enforcement authorities on both sides of the issue have said it would be nearly impossible to get a conviction in the case.
Former prosecutors who have worked on building a case over the past almost four years have complained that the team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who did the initial investigation didn’t believe Officer Pantaleo had done anything wrong, and so didn’t properly investigate, according to The New York Times.
The decision on whether to seek an indictment now sits firmly in the lap of U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, The New York Times reported. Rosenstein has reportedly had several meetings to discuss moving forward with the prosecution but thus far, no decisions have been made.
Garner’s mother made a public plea on Friday for “long-delayed federal charges” against the officer who she blames for her son's medically-induced death, and accused the current administration of playing politics.
“If the Trump Administration’s Justice Department doesn’t hold NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo and others who killed my son accountable ... they are failing to uphold law-and-order for politics,” said Gwen Carr, according to the New York Daily News.
“They’re playing political games with the murder of my son. It’s been nearly four years and there still is no justice — it’s unacceptable,” Carr said.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also called on the DoJ to make a decision as the case rapidly approached its fourth anniversary, the New York Daily News reported.
“The family and loved ones of Eric Garner have waited long enough,” said the mayor. “Our city has waited long enough. After almost four years of deliberation ... we once again urge the DOJ to show some level of decency to the Garner family.”