Last Friday marked three months since Eric Garner of Staten Island was killed by a chokehold administered by New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo, but the officer still has not been charged in the death of the 43-year-old father of six.
It’s an anniversary that is begging for some type of action by Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, whose grand jury just began hearing evidence in the case last week.
The viral video of Garner’s last breaths outraged many across the nation, prompting angry protests that presaged the violent confrontations in Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, who was killed three weeks after Garner.
Though the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, Donovan decided to go the grand jury route, rather than just charging Pantaleo. To many, the Garner ordeal recalls the case of another unarmed Black man, Ernest Saxon, who was killed 20 years ago in Staten Island when he was asphyxiated while in handcuffs during a struggle with police. A grand jury heard evidence for seven months — and voted not to indict the three officers involved in Saxon’s death.
“They lost their provider, the father, the husband, the son, and it’s tough,” the Garner family attorney, Jonathan Moore, told The Huffington Post last week. “They’re upset.”
“It’s taking too long,” Moore said of Donovan’s handling of the case. “I’m very concerned that it’s taken three months for what should be a straightforward case.”
Moore added that he hopes it’s taking the district attorney so long because he’s conducting a thorough investigation.
But because the case is being handled in Staten Island, where many cops live and thus might be more likely to have cop sympathizers on the grand jury, and because district attorneys have to work closely with police officers on thousands of cases every year, many called for a special prosecutor in the case. The Rev. Al Sharpton asked the U.S. Department of Justice to step in.
Anthony Thompson, a professor of law at New York University, said to HuffPost he wondered why a grand jury was even necessary.
“Why not just direct file?” he said, adding that the video appeared to show sufficient evidence of Pantaleo’s wrongdoing to sustain a charge of negligent homicide.
“The chances of [Officer Pantaleo] beating it on Staten Island are pretty good,” Mathew Galluzzo, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, told The Staten Island Advance earlier this month. “There’s a lot of allegiance to officers on Staten Island. If this was the Bronx, he’d be indicted already. But it’s Staten Island.”
The last time Donovan spoke on the case was in August, when he said, “I assure the public that I am committed to conducting a fair, thorough, and responsible investigation into Mr. Garner’s death. And that I will go wherever the evidence takes me, without fear or favor.”