Federal prosecutors want to charge Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner in 2014, but high-ranking Justice Department officials with the final say have expressed “strong reservations” about the move, according to the New York Times.
Pantaleo’s killing of Garner, using a choke-hold banned by NYPD regulations, was captured on video. In it, Garner, unarmed, is confronted by Pantaleo and other officers for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes near his home on Staten Island. Garner protests his innocence, and resists arrest, and Pantelo uses a choke-hold to bring Garner to the ground, the video shows.
As police restrain him, Garner cries out: “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
The Staten Island medical examiner ruled Garner’s killing a homicide, and it was the chokehold that killed him: “prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”
The video of Garner’s killing went viral, and his last words became a battle cry for police reformers. His killing, along with the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson., Mo., three weeks later, sparked the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement and a national self-examination of policing in America, a debate that continues to reverberate throughout the country today.
In front that grand jury, officer Pantaleo testified that killing Garner was an accident -- that he didn’t mean to use a choke-hold but instead meant to utilize a wrestling move taught in the police academy. He put his arm around Garner’s neck, his lawyer said, only when they pressed up against a glass window which Pantaleo feared would shatter.
The controversey over whether to seek a Federal indictment against Pantaleo pits Federal prosecutors in the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Justice against political appointees of the Trump Administration, according to the Times’ report.
Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein must approve the decision to prosecute Pantaleo or not. He has had multiple meetings on the topic, but has yet to make a decision, though it appears “unlikely” he will approve, according to the report.
The Attorney General himself, Jeff Sessions, has been briefed on the case, and is expected to review Rosenstein’s decision. Sessions told a police fraternal organization last year that “We have your back,” but, he added, “I will also hold any officer responsible breaking the law.”
Pantaleo is sitll employed by the NYPD, although he has had a desk job since he killed Garner. New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board has recommended disciplining him.