A grand jury announced its decision Wednesday not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a white NYPD officer who held a black man in an apparent chokehold during an arrest last July. The man, Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, subsequently died.
Garner was being arrested for allegedly selling illegal, untaxed cigarettes in the New York City borough of Staten Island.
Pantaleo, 29, told the jury that he meant no harm to Eric Garner and wasn’t using a chokehold — a move that’s been banned by the police department — when he was subduing Garner for resisting arrest.
But mobile phone footage captured by a bystander shows Pantaleo with an arm around Garner’s neck while six other officers helped subdue him. In the video, Garner can be heard exclaiming “I can’t breathe!” before he goes limp.
Chokeholds were banned by the NYPD in 1993. Pantaleo said he was trying to use a wrestling move meant to make Garner lose his balance.
The New York Times details Pantaleo’s explanation to the grand jury:
Officer Pantaleo testified that when he put his hands on Mr. Garner, he was employing a manoeuvre taught to him at the Police Academy, hooking an arm underneath one of Mr. Garner’s arms while wrapping the other around Mr. Garner’s torso, Mr. London said. The move is meant to “tip the person so they lose their balance and go to the ground,” as seen in wrestling, Mr. London said.
But then things changed. As the struggle continued, one of Officer Pantaleo’s arms moved around Mr. Garner’s neck. Officer Pantaleo told the grand jury that he became fearful as he found himself sandwiched between a much larger man and a storefront window.
A medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide that was the result of the apparent chokehold and compression to Garner’s chest, according to the Times. That report also listed other factors as contributing to his death, including his asthma and weak heart.
Pantaleo said that when he heard Garner say he couldn’t breathe, he tried to disengage as quickly as possible. But as the Times points out, the video shows Garner yelling at a police officer who had apparently approached him, saying that he wasn’t selling anything and that the police are always harassing him even though he’s not doing anything wrong.
When police officers approach him and try to grab him, he tells them not to touch him. Then, an officer is seen grabbing him from behind. It appears that at first, the officer is trying to pull Garner’s arms behind his back, but Garner resists and then the officer puts his arm around Garner’s neck and pulls him to the ground.
After Garner says he can’t breathe, the officer with his arm around Garner’s neck releases his hold, but then presses Garner’s head into the sidewalk with his hands as Garner continues to say he can’t breathe.
He went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital.
According to the Daily News, Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, reacted with shock when she was informed of the grand jury’s decision.
“Oh my God, are you serious?” she said. “I’m very disappointed. You can see in the video that he [the cop] was dead wrong!”
Jonathon Moore, an attorney for the Garner family, told a local CBS affiliate he was “astonished by the decision” not to indict Pantaleo.
The decision is another major blow to activists who had called for the indictment of both Pantaleo and Darren Wilson, the officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last August.
Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan released a statement after the decision was announced wherein he expressed his “condolences” to Garner’s family. He also emphasised the extent of the grand jury probe.
“That investigation spanned four months, and focused on locating civilian eyewitnesses with information and evidence to offer, speaking to those who provided medical treatment, whether on the scene or at the hospital, and consulting expert witnesses in the area of forensic pathology, policies, procedures, and training of police officers, as well as emergency medical technicians,” said Donovan. “Over 38 interviews were conducted, yielding 22 civilian witnesses who reported to have seen some part of the interaction between Eric Garner and members of the NYPD.”
In a comment released to ABC News, Pantaleo also offered his condolences to Garner’s family.
“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,” he said.
Protests broke out Wednesday night after the decision was announced. Demonstrators staged a “die-in” in Grand Central Terminal and protested in Times Square, Rockefeller Center, and other parts of the city.
“The irony of what we’re dealing with in New York is we have the New York community, the people who live here, and then we have a lot of outside agitators who come in for these events,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton reportedly said Wednesday morning.
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