A grand jury empaneled in Staten Island has declined to indict an NYPD officer in connection with the chokehold death of Eric Garner, according to multiple reports.
BREAKING: Lawyer: No indictment for New York City police officer in chokehold death of unarmed man.
— The Associated Press (@AP) December 3, 2014
— NY1 News (@NY1) December 3, 2014
The news comes a little more than a week after a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., declined to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.
In that case, the decision led to almost immediate protests and riots in and around Ferguson, and they subsequently spread across the country.
New York City officials on Tuesday said they were preparing for potential protests depending on the outcome of the grand jury’s decision in Garner’s death.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reportedly cancelled an appearance after news of the non-indictment was initially reported.
Garner died July 17 following a confrontation with police. While officers were trying to arrest the 43-year-old man for selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, the officer the grand jury was considering whether to indict, Daniel Pantaleo, was seen on video placing Garner in a chokehold.
Garner was heard in the video saying, “I can’t breathe.”
More than a month later, the city medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, noting that the chokehold had contributed to his death. The chokehold is prohibited by New York Police Department policy.
Richmand County District Attorney Daniel Donovan Jr. released a statement Wednesday in which he expressed his condolences to Garner’s family.
“After deliberation on the evidence presented in this matter, the grand jury found that there was no reasonable cause to vote an indictment,” he said. “Upon Eric Garner’s death, investigations were immediately commenced, and independently conducted, by the Office of the New York City Chief Medical Examiner, the Internal Affairs Bureau of the New York Police Department, and the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office.”
During a four-month investigation, Donovan’s office interviewed 22 civilian witnesses who said they saw part of the confrontation.
The grand jury was made up of 23 people whose identities are kept secret. Unlike in the Ferguson grand jury in which the race and sex of the jurors was made public, New York laws prohibit the disclosure of information regarding the grand jury process.
“It is important to understand that under New York law everything that happens in the grand jury is secret; therefore only very limited or no disclosure is permitted,” Donovan said in his statement. “Moreover, those limited disclosures can only be made after an application has been made for a court order allowing disclosure, and said application has been granted.
“Disclosure of anything further,” he added, “may be a violation of New York law.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union released a statement following reports of the non-indictment questioning the ability of the NYPD to hold officers accountable.
“The failure of the Staten Island Grand Jury to file an indictment in the killing of Eric Garner leaves New Yorkers with an inescapable question: How will the NYPD hold the officers involved accountable for his death?” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “And what will Commissioner Bratton do to ensure that this is the last tragedy of its kind? Unless the Police Department aggressively deals with its culture of impunity and trains officers that they must simultaneously protect both safety and individual rights, officers will continue to believe that they can act without consequence.”
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and others called on the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the issue, similar to the concurrent federal probe that is continuing in the Ferguson case.
“The death of Eric Garner is a tragedy that demands accountability,” Gillibrand said. “Nobody unarmed should die on a New York City street corner for suspected low-level offenses. I’m shocked by this grand jury decision.”
Read Donovan’s full statement: