The United States Department of Justice will take over the inquiry into the death of Eric Garner after a Staten Island grand jury voted not to indict 29-year-old NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who allegedly used a chokehold on Garner as officers arrested him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on July 17, 2014. Garner died minutes later of neck compression. He was 43 years old.
In a statement issued on the evening of Wednesday, December 3, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Loretta Lynch explained, “Since the death of Eric Garner in July, our office has monitored this case closely. At the outset, informed by prior experience and in keeping with the standard practice in these types of cases in New York, the local investigation proceeded first.”
However, Lynch went on, “Because the local investigation has come to a close, the Justice Department will now move forward with its own independent inquiry to determine whether federal civil rights laws have been violated. The investigation will be conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The investigation will be fair and thorough, and it will be conducted as expeditiously as possible.”
Numerous local officials had called for a Justice Department investigation in the hours after the grand jury’s decision became public. Among them was Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, who noted in a statement, “I urge the Justice Department, which is already investigating the case, to proceed as quickly as possible with a view toward indictment for possible civil rights violations.”
In addition, Congressmember Nydia Velazquez urged the DOJ to “to begin carefully and thoroughly cataloging allegations of police brutality to determine areas where these problems are most common.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed satisfaction with the Justice Department’s decision to pursue the case during an appearance at Mt. Sinai United Christian Church in Staten Island, noting, “One chapter has closed, with the decision of this grand jury. There are more chapters ahead. The police department will initiate now its own investigation, and make its own decisions about the administrative actions it can take.
“The federal government is clearly engaged and poised to act,” he went on, noting that Lynch and Attorney General Eric Holder had, “made clear that the investigation initiated by the U.S. attorney would now move forward, that it would be done expeditiously, that it would be done with a clear sense of independence, and that it would be a thorough investigation. It was a palpable sense of resolve – the federal government will exercise its responsibilities here, and do a full and thorough investigation, and draw conclusions accordingly.”
Lynch has been nominated by President Barack Obama to be the next U.S. attorney general.