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The Justice Department will not file charges against a police officer who put Eric Garner in a deadly chokehold. Garner's 2014 death and other cases of police brutality gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
A white New York City police officer involved in the 2014 chokehold death of an African-American man will not face federal criminal charges, the US Justice Department said Tuesday.
The death of Eric Garner, whose dying words were "I can't breathe," and other police killings in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, spawned the Black Lives Matter movement and nationwide protests against police brutality targeting African-American men and teenagers.
US Attorney Richard Donoghue, of the Eastern District of New York, said at a news conference following the Department of Justice decision to end a yearslong investigation that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Officer Daniel Pantaleo or any other officers willfully violated Garner's civil rights.
"Even if we could prove that Officer Pantaleo's hold of Mr. Garner constituted unreasonable force, we would still have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Pantaleo acted willfully in violation of the law," Donoghue said.
"The death of Eric Garner was a tragedy," he said. "The job of the federal prosecutor, however, is not to let our emotions dictate our decisions."
The US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York had recommended no charges, while Justice Department civil rights prosecutors sought charges against Pantaleo. Attorney General William Barr reportedly made the ultimate decision to drop the case a day before the end of the five-year statute of limitations.
Garner's family and civil rights icon Reverend Al Sharpton criticized the Justice Department decision and demanded that Pantaleo be fired.
"The DOJ has failed us," said Garner's mother, Gwen Carr. "Five years ago, my son said 'I can't breathe' 11 times, and today we can't breathe because they let us down."
New York's Police Benevolent Association union welcomed the decision.
"Although Mr. Garner's death was an undeniable tragedy, Police Officer Pantaleo did not cause it," PBA President Patrick Lynch said in a statement. "Scapegoating a good and honorable officer, who was doing his job in the manner he was taught, will not heal the wounds this case has caused for our entire city."
Garner died during arrest while being taken down on the pavement by four officers after he refused to be handcuffed for selling untaxed cigarettes outside a Staten Island convenience store.
In a video of the arrest, Garner can be heard saying "I can't breathe" 11 times as he was put in a chokehold in violation of New York Police Department guidelines.
After an autopsy, the New York City Chief Medical Examiner's office called Garner's death a homicide induced by "compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police."
A state grand jury declined to press charges against Pantaleo or other officers in December 2014 after claims that Garner suffered from a heart condition and asthma that may have contributed to his death.
In 2015, New York City agreed to pay Garner's family a settlement of $5.9 million to resolve a wrongful death lawsuit.
Separately, the New York Police Department charged Pantaleo earlier this year and an administrative judge is expected to rule later this summer whether he violated policy. Pantaleo, who has been put on a desk job, could be dismissed from the force. The police commissioner will make the ultimate decision.
cw/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters)