New York City Police Officer Won’t Face Criminal Charges in Eric Garner Death – Wall Street Journal

Posted: Thursday, December 04, 2014
A group of protesters rally against the decision not to indict the white police officer in connection with the July death of Eric Garner during the annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center.

Benjamin Carr, center left, stepfather of Eric Garner, holds hands with supporters during a moment of prayer in front of a beauty-supply store on Bay Street on Staten Island, where Mr. Garner died.

Protesters shout slogans in Times Square after a New York City grand jury decided not to charge a police officer in Eric Garner’s death.

Activists took to the streets in response to the grand jury's decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio arrives at a news conference on Staten Island on Wednesday after a New York City grand jury decided not to charge a white police officer in Eric Garner’s death.

People march Wednesday from a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner to the New York Police Department 120th precinct on Staten Island.

Protesters took to the street of Manhattan in and around Times Square and midtown Manhattan and blocked major traffic hours after news came that no grand jury indictment in Staten Island chokehold case would come.

A police officer stands over activists demanding justice in the death of Eric Garner as they stage a 'die-in' during rush hour at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan on Wednesday. A grand jury earlier in the day declined to indict a New York Police Department officer in Mr. Garner’s death.

Jessie Daniels holds his hands up Wednesday near a beauty-supply store in Staten Island. Eric Garner died in July after being placed in an apparent chokehold in this location by a New York City police officer.

A memorial for Eric Garner in July, near where he was taken into police custody in Staten Island. On Wednesday, a grand jury in New York City declined to indict a police officer in his death.

Richard Watkins holds a sign during a July vigil demanding justice for Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died while being arrested by New York City police.

Gwen Carr hugs Ramsey Orta, who videotaped the incident involving the NYPD and Eric Garner, during a funeral service for Mr. Garner at Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn on July 23.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is joined by the Rev. Al Sharpton and Police Commissioner William Bratton at City Hall on July 31 for a roundtable discussion on police-community relations following the death of Eric Garner.

Esaw Garner, the wife of Eric Garner, breaks down in the arms of the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, left, and the Rev. Al Sharpton during a rally at the National Action Network headquarters for Eric Garner in New York in July.

A young boy stops at a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner on Aug. 1 in the Staten Island borough of New York.

A memorial for Michael Brown, next to one for Eric Garner, outside of filmmaker Spike Lee’s offices in Brooklyn in August.

A flier with a picture of Eric Garner, as seen in August in Staten Island, near where he was killed in an encounter with an NYPD officer.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan speaks at a news conference alongside New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, left, first lady Chirlane McCray, second from right, and Imam Talib Al-Hajj Abdur-Rashid, right, following a multifaith roundtable meeting Aug. 20 in New York.

Esaw Garner, left, arrives at the start of a march and rally in Staten Island on Aug. 23, at the spot in Staten Island where her husband, Eric Garner, died in July. The Rev. Al Sharpton, center, and Mr. Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, right.

Thousands take part in the ‘We Will Not Go Back’ march and rally for Eric Garner in Staten Island in August.

People make the ‘Don’t Shoot’ gesture as New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton testifies during a New York City Council oversight hearing in September on the retraining of NYPD officers.

Emerald Garner, right, daughter of Eric Garner; Esaw Garner, Eric Garner's wife, second from right; Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, center; and Kimberly Michelle Ballinger, domestic partner of Akai Gurley, second from left, join the Rev. Al Sharpton in a prayer during a news conference at the National Action Network headquarters in New York on Nov. 26.

A woman places flowers at a memorial for Eric Garner near the site of his death in Staten Island on Wednesday.

A New York City grand jury on Wednesday declined to indict a police officer in the death of an unarmed African-American, sparking a federal investigation and renewing a wave of law-enforcement-focused protests that swept the country after another black man was fatally shot by an officer in Missouri.

The grand jury’s decision drew cries of outrage from many New York elected officials, and city leaders called for calm as protesters marched through Manhattan, denouncing the death of

Eric Garner,

43 years old, who died after being held in an apparent police chokehold on July 17 in the city’s borough of Staten Island.

The decision also elicited a quick reaction from President


Barack Obama
,

who said Mr. Garner’s death “speaks to the larger issues” of trust between police and civilians. He renewed a vow to repair police-community relations.

Attorney General


Eric Holder

announced Wednesday night that the Justice Department would launch an “independent, thorough, fair, and expeditious” civil rights probe into Mr. Garner’s death. Previously, the department had been monitoring the local investigation of the case.

“His death of course was a tragedy. All lives must be valued,’’ the attorney general said, acknowledging that some are “disappointed and frustrated’’ by the grand jury decision.

Protesters staged a ‘die-in’ Wednesday in New York’s Grand Central Terminal to protest the decision on Eric Garner’s death.
ENLARGE

He added that “we must seek to heal the breakdown in trust that we have seen’’ between law enforcement and minority communities.

A widely circulated video of Mr. Garner’s final moments showed the white officer,

Daniel Pantaleo,

with his arm wrapped around Mr. Garner’s neck, wrestling him to the ground in an attempt to arrest him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.

Mr. Garner could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.” His death was ruled a homicide, and New York Police Department officials have said the chokehold technique generally isn’t allowed.

Protesters fanned out across New York City and emerged elsewhere in the country after the grand jury’s decision, which comes a little more than a week after a grand jury in Missouri declined to indict a white police officer,

Darren Wilson,

who shot an unarmed black 18-year-old,

Michael Brown

in August.

Mr. Garner died during a scuffle with police on July 17 in Staten Island, N.Y.
ENLARGE

Violent clashes with police, widespread looting and arson erupted following a local grand jury’s Nov. 24 decision not to indict Mr. Wilson.

Large numbers of police officers worked to keep hundreds of protesters—chanting “I can’t breathe”—from disrupting the annual tree-lighting ceremony in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center.

As of 9 p.m., about 32 people had been arrested, all near Rockefeller Center, after demonstrators tried to break down police barriers, said NYPD spokesman

Stephen Davis.

Protestors also closed down a portion of the Westside Highway near 50th Street Wednesday night.

Mayor


Bill de Blasio

went to Staten Island and called for calm, citing the wishes of Mr. Garner’s family. “If you really want to dignify the life of Eric Garner, you will do so through peaceful protest; you will work relentlessly for change,” he said.

In downtown Washington, D.C., scores of protesters blocked traffic on Connecticut Avenue on Wednesday evening, chanting “This is what democracy looks like” and other slogans. They then moved north to


DuPont

Circle, trailed by police vehicles.

Mr. Holder, who has announced he will step down after a successor is confirmed, will travel to five more cities in coming weeks, as part of the Obama administration’s effort to repair relationships between police and minority communities.

Loretta Lynch,

the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., is Mr. Obama’s choice to replace Mr. Holder. Ms. Lynch’s office is overseeing the federal probe of the Garner case, which could complicate her nomination. Confirmation hearings for Ms. Lynch are not expected to begin until next year, and it is unclear how long her office will take to investigate the Garner matter.

Emotions ran high Wednesday, as New Yorkers voiced a mixture of anger and frustration.

“It’s just like getting a knife and stabbing my heart,” said Mr. Garner’s stepfather,

Benjamin Carr

at the site on Staten Island where Mr. Garner was arrested. “It’s just a license to kill a black man.”

Family and friends said Mr. Garner was married with six children and two grandchildren. Mr. Garner has a criminal record that includes more than 30 arrests dating back to 1980 on charges such as assault, resisting arrest, grand larceny. An official said the charges include multiple incidents in which he was arrested for selling unlicensed cigarettes.

In a statement released shortly after the grand jury decision was announced, Staten Island District Attorney

Daniel Donovan

expressed condolences to Mr. Garner’s family and laid out his office’s investigation into Mr. Garner’s death, which he said spanned four months.

More than 38 interviews were conducted, and 22 civilian witnesses reported to have seen some part of the interaction between Mr. Garner and the police, Mr. Donovan said.

“Clearly, this matter was of special concern in that an unarmed citizen of our County had died in police custody,” Mr. Donovan said of his August decision to empanel a special grand jury to hear the case.

A large amount of grand-jury information was released in Missouri after Mr. Wilson wasn’t indicted.

In a rare public comment issued through his union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Officer Pantaleo, an eight-year veteran, said he became a police officer to help and protect others.

“It is never my intention to harm anyone, and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” Officer Pantaleo said.

Staten Island has a higher density of whites than elsewhere in New York state, according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data—77.6% compared with 70.9% statewide—and is home to many New York City police and other government workers. Blacks make up 11.8% of the borough’s population, compared with 17.5% statewide.

—Pervaiz Shallwani, Devlin Barrett, Mike Vilensky and Joe Jackson contributed to this article.

Write to Michael Howard Saul at michael.saul@wsj.com

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