DOJ Announces Decision Not to Charge Pantaleo, Sparking Outcry from Garner Family in Brooklyn

 

DOJ’s Richard Donoghue and FBI special agent in charge of the Criminal Division for the New York Field Office, Michael Driscoll, announcing the decision not to charge Daniel Pantaleo (Image by Sam Raskin/ Bklyner)

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS— Family members of Eric Garner and local politicians on Tuesday criticized the Department of Justice’s decision not to bring charges against the officer,  Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Garner during an arrest on Staten Island five years ago.

The reactions came after the New York Times reported early Tuesday that Pantaleo, who put Garner in a chokehold on July 17, 2014, would not face charges. The Department of Justice formally announced the investigation’s conclusion later in the morning.

“The DOJ has failed us,” said Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, outside the federal courthouse building at 271 Cadman Plaza E. “You killed my son, you won’t get away with it.” The DOJ’s press conference took place following a roughly 30-minute meeting between Garner’s family and federal prosecutors.

On Monday, outside the same federal courthouse, other members of Garner’s family called for Pantaleo to face civil rights violations two days ahead of the 5th anniversary of Garner’s death.

“He was killed on the streets and this cop … is still on the police force. Why?” said Emerald Snipes, Garner’s daughter, on Tuesday. “When are you going to fire this officer. You have the evidence.”

“I’m going to scream it: Pantaleo Needs to be fired,” she added.

Shortly after upstairs, Richard Donoghue, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, declared and briefly explained the DOJ’s decision.

“After an exhaustive investigation, the Department of Justice has reached the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the police officers who arrested Eric Garner in Staten Island on July 17 of 2014 acted in violation of the federal criminal civil rights act,” he said. “Consequently, the investigation into this incident has been closed.”

“Mr. Garner’s death is a tragedy,” he added, calling it a “tremendous loss.”

In addition, Donaghue apologized to the Garner family for how long the investigation dragged on and said he hoped announcing the decision would bring his loved ones “closure.”

“This should never have taken as long as it did,” he said.

As for why the DOJ opted not to bring federal charges against Pantaleo, Donoghue said that for a federal civil rights charge to be brought, the government must prove the officers “willfully used more force than he reasonably could have believed was necessary under the circumstances,” and that the DOJ’s investigation found the deadly incident did not meet that criteria.

“Even if unreasonable force, we would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted willfully in violation of the law,” he explained. “An officer’s mistake, fear, misperception, or even poor judgment does not constitute willful conduct under federal criminal civil rights law.”

Donaghue also said that one medical examiner was unable to conclude the cause of death, and that the force the police officer used may not have directly caused it, noting Garner was asthmatic and overweight. Garner’s size, Donaghue said, also justified the amount of force Pantaleo used during the arrest. And the fact that Garner said “I can’t breath” before Pantaleo put him in a chokehold also shed doubt on whether the officer killed Garner.

Meanwhile, local politicians reacted to the news, most of whom castigated the DOJ’s decision, with some calling for Pantaleo to be fired.

would be alive and with his family today if it weren’t for the actions of Daniel Pantaleo,” said southern Brooklyn Council Member Justin Brannan. “A man is dead and no one is being held accountable. Justice should not depend on the size of your bank account or the color of your skin.

“The family of asked for justice; nothing less, nothing more,” said Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who represents parts of Crown Heights and surrounding neighborhoods. “This unfortunate result is an all too familiar reality, that continues to erode our system of justice and sense of fairness. I’m heartbroken for his children.”

Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents Williamsburg and parts of Bushwick and is running for Brooklyn borough president, said he is “outraged” by the decision.

“Another example of the hypocrisy at every level of our justice system. The burden to deliver some semblance of justice now falls on & Commissioner O’Neil,” he said on Twitter. “I join the family of Eric Garner & in demanding that tell commissioner O’Neil to NOW.”

“I’ve spent too long with the Garner family to be surprised by injustice, or stop fighting it. Eric Garner was murdered,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who formerly represented Flatbush, East Flatbush and surrounding neighborhoods in the City Council. “Some want us to forget that— but we saw Pantaleo kill him. My last hope is for & to .”

“The last hope lies with the Commissioner and with the Mayor. They are among the people who seemingly agree that a tragic injustice occurred – but refuse to do anything to seek justice now,” he said later in a press release. “They are out of excuses.”

 

“Years ago, we put our faith in the federal government to act,” Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had repeatedly declined to weigh in substantively on the matter during the investigation, said Tuesday in a statement. “We won’t make that mistake again.”

He added that, “moving forward,” the city will not “wait for the federal government to commence our own disciplinary decisions.”

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Sam Raskin

Sam Raskin has reported for Politico New York, Gotham Gazette, Gothamist and Curbed New York.

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