Federal civil rights prosecutors and top Justice Department officials are reportedly split on whether to charge the NYPD officer involved in the chokehold death of Staten Island man Eric Garner.
The recommendation to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo has made its way to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s desk, but officials are at odds over whether to move forward with a case deemed unwinnable by some, according to The New York Times. Justice Department officials have reportedly expressed doubts about the case, saying it was unlikely Rosenstein would greenlight the charges.
“It looks like the people who worked the case want (Pantaleo) indicted,” civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said. “They need Rosenstein and (Attorney General Jeff) Sessions to sign off on it.”
Garner died in July 2014 after officer Pantaleo placed him in an illegal chokehold while arresting him for selling loose cigarettes. His oft-repeated last words, “I Can’t Breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement in their fight for justice.
The New York Times reported that Rosenstein has called several meetings that revealed discord within the Justice Department, over whether the case should proceed. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, told the New York Post that DOJ officials told her last summer that they’d have a decision by the end of 2017. That day never came.
“They still haven’t gotten back to me yet,” Carr said Friday. “I haven’t had a callback. I want an update.”
Carr said she remains hopeful Pantaleo will be indicted for her son’s death.
Lawyers for both the Garner family and Pantaleo also said they’ve heard nothing about the possibility of charges against the officer. In 2014, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in the fatal arrest. Federal charges have since become an uncertainty under the Trump administration. Pantaleo has maintained his innocence.
“Officer Pantaleo has consistently denied he ever violated Mr. Garner’s civil rights,” said Pantaleo’s lawyer Stu London. “This was a simple street encounter, with no violation of anyone’s constitutional rights.”
“Politics should never trump the rule of law, and it is always important to remember that anytime there is a loss of life, it is tragedy,” he added.