Federal prosecutors won’t bring civil rights charges against a New York City police officer in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, a person familiar with the matter said Tuesday.
The decision not to bring charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo comes a day before the statute of limitations was set to expire, on the fifth anniversary of the encounter that led to Garner’s death. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Garner was black, and Pantaleo is white. Garner’s words “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for police reform activists, amid a stretch of other deaths of black men at the hands of white officers. Protests erupted around the country, and police reform became a national discussion.
Some lawmakers and activists decried the decision.
“The Garner family has suffered too much. This decision pains me,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent running for president as a Democrat. “It is not just, and we will not have real justice for black Americans until there is serious reform of our racist criminal justice system.”
Officers were attempting to arrest Garner on charges he sold loose, untaxed cigarettes outside a Staten Island convenience store. He refused to be handcuffed, and officers took him down.
Garner is heard on bystander video crying out “I can’t breathe” at least 11 times before he falls unconscious. He later died.
A state grand jury also refused to indict the officer on criminal charges.
In the years since Garner’s death, the New York Police Department made a series of sweeping changes on how it relates to the communities it serves, ditching a policy of putting rookie cops in higher-crime precincts in favor of a neighborhood policing model that revolves around community officers tasked with getting to know New Yorkers.
Some activists, including Garner’s family and the relatives of others killed by police, have argued the changes weren’t enough.
Garner’s family and attorney were meeting with federal prosecutors Tuesday morning. A news conference was planned after with the Rev. Al Sharpton. Pantaleo’s attorney, Stuart London, said he was not immediately aware of the decision.
Chokeholds are banned under police policy. Pantaleo maintained he used a legal takedown maneuver called the “seatbelt.”
The medical examiner’s office said a chokehold contributed to Garner’s death.
The New York Police Department brought Pantaleo up on departmental charges earlier this year. Federal prosecutors were observing the proceedings. An administrative judge has not ruled whether he violated policy. He could face dismissal, but Police Commissioner James O’Neill has the final say.
In the years since Garner’s death, Pantaleo has remained on the job but not in the field, and activists have decried his paycheck that included union-negotiated raises.