Daniel Pantaleo, the Staten Island NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner with a chokehold in July, will not face charges for the killing, a grand jury reportedly decided today. Garner, who was asthmatic, pled with police about his inability to breathe several times during the struggle that led to his death.
The NYPD's own patrol guide explicitly prohibits chokeholds, and the death was ruled a homicide by the New York City medical examiner in August. Pantaleo was the target of two previous civil suits before Garner's death.
The decision—which comes nine days after a grand jury failed to indict Ferguson, Mo., cop Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown—will almost certainly inspire protests. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton told reporters this week the department will address demonstrations using the same strategies it used during Occupy Wall Street.
Panataleo released a statement through New York's police union:
"I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can't protect themselves. It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss."
According to a statement from Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, New York law prohibits his office from disclosing records of the grand jury's proceedings as the St. Louis County District Attorney did after the Darren Wilson decision. However, Donovan wrote, he has applied for authorization to publish the information, citing a provision that allows for its release if there is "a compelling and particularized need for access."
Mayor Bill de Blasio's office released a long statement encouraging nonviolent protests and pledging that the city "stands ready to cooperate" with a federal investigation:
"This is a deeply emotional day – for the Garner Family, and all New Yorkers. His death was a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure. This is a subject that is never far from my family's minds – or our hearts. And Eric Garner's death put a spotlight on police-community relations and civil rights – some of most critical issues our nation faces today.
"Today's outcome is one that many in our city did not want. Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest. We trust that those unhappy with today's grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way. We all agree that demonstrations and free speech are valuable contributions to debate, and that violence and disorder are not only wrong – but hurt the critically important goals we are trying to achieve together.
"These goals – of bringing police and community closer together and changing the culture of law enforcement — are why we have introduced so many reforms this year. It starts at the top with Commissioner Bratton – a strong, proven change agent. We have dramatically reduced the overuse and abuse of stop-and-frisk. We have initiated a comprehensive plan to retrain the entire NYPD to reduce the use of excessive force and to work with the community. We have changed our marijuana policy to reduce low-level arrests, and we have launched a new pilot program for body cameras for officers to improve transparency and accountability.
"These are the long term reforms we are making to ensure we don't endure tragedies like this one again in the future. But we also know that this chapter is not yet complete. The grand jury is but one part of the process. There will still be an NYPD internal investigation. And we know the US Attorney is continuing her investigation. Should the federal government choose to act, we stand ready to cooperate.
"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – one of our nation's most profound thinkers on these issues – taught us something very simple: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The problem of police-community relations and civil rights is not just an issue for people of color – or young people – or people who get stopped by police. This is a fundamental issue for every American who cares about justice.
"All of us must work together to make this right – to work for justice – and to build the kind of city – and nation – we need to be."