Justice Department Will Not Charge NYPD Officer in 2014 Choking Death of Eric Garner

A protest at the Department of Justice building in Washington on Monday in support of an indictment for the death of Eric Garner.
Credit: Erik S. Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Justice Department will not bring federal charges against a New York City police officer in the death of Eric Garner, ending a yearslong inquiry into a case that sharply divided officials and prompted national protests over excessive force by the police, according to three people briefed on the decision.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn intend to announce the decision not to bring criminal civil rights charges on Tuesday morning, just one day before the fifth anniversary of Mr. Garner’s death. That is the deadline by which they would have to file some of the possible charges against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo.

The decision extinguishes the hopes of the Garner family and their supporters that Officer Pantaleo might face prosecution in a case that ignited demonstrations and debates over the use of force by police officers and led to changes in policing practices across the United States.

In June, the Police Department finished a disciplinary trial to determine if Officer Pantaleo should be fired or punished in some other way for using what appeared to be a chokehold, which the department had banned more than two decades ago.

It is ultimately up to Commissioner James P. O’Neill, as the final arbiter of police discipline, to decide whether to fire Officer Pantaleo or take less drastic action, like docking vacation time.

But Mr. O’Neill will not make a formal decision until the police administrative judge who oversaw the disciplinary trial renders her verdict, and he is still awaiting her report, a spokesman for the department, Philip T. Walzak, said in a statement. “Because of the need to protect the integrity of the process, the N.Y.P.D. will not comment further at this time,” the statement said.

John Marzulli, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn, which investigated the case along with the F.B.I., also declined to comment on Tuesday morning.

Officer Pantaleo, 34, has been on desk duty without a shield or a gun since Mr. Garner died, a status that has allowed him to accrue pay and pension benefits.

Mr. Garner, who was 43, died on a Staten Island sidewalk on July 17, 2014, after Officer Pantaleo wrapped an arm around his neck from behind and took him to the ground and other officers put their weight on him, compressing his chest against the pavement. A medical examiner testified at the disciplinary hearing that the pressure on Mr. Garner’s neck and chest set in motion a fatal asthma attack.

Some bystanders captured video of the attack on their cellphones, recording Mr. Garner as he gasped “I can’t breathe,” dying words that became a rallying cry for protesters across the nation.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Katie Benner and William K. Rashbaum