A federal prosecutor announced Tuesday, the day before the five year anniversary of Eric Garner‘s death, that the U.S. Department of Justice would not charge the police officer responsible.
The decision ends a years-long federal probe into whether New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo should face civil rights charges for killing Garner during an arrest even though video shows him saying, “I can’t breathe.”
Citing an unnamed DOJ official, The Associated Press reported that Attorney General William Barr declined the recommendation to prosecute made by Justice Department lawyers in the civil rights division in Washington, deciding instead to follow a call not to prosecute from the Eastern District of New York office. The decision was announced a day before the statute of limitations was set to expire in the case.
Garner’s mother Gwen Carr shared a stage with civil rights activist Al Sharpton during a news conference about the decision Tuesday.
“We’re here with heavy hearts because the DOJ has failed us,” Carr said.
She also said, “You think it’s swept under the rug? No! It’s not going to be swept under the rug. Because, I’m out here. You all know my face. You’re going to see it even more now.”
Garner, an unarmed Black man, was accused of selling single cigarettes outside a store on Staten Island when Pantaleo tried to arrest him by placing him in a chokehold.
Garner died after the encounter when he was taken to Richmond University Medical Center, according to NBC New York.
Video of the incident sparked national media attention that reached a boiling point when a grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo on Dec. 3, 2014, and protesters took to the streets of New York.
Even though a medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide on Aug. 1, 2014, attorney Stuart London, who represented the officer, has gone on to argue that Garner died from being “morbidly obese.”
“Those who have been able to not come to a rushed judgment, but have looked at the video in explicit detail, see Pantaleo’s intent and objective was to take him down pursuant to how he was taught by NYPD, control him when they got on the ground, and then have him cuffed,” London said in an interview with the New York Times. “There was never any intent for him to exert pressure on his neck and choke him out the way the case has been portrayed.”
The claims drew wide criticism that resurfaced amid prosecutors’ recent decision.
CNN reported that under disagreement was whether evidence in the case could meet the high legal standard that Pantaleo, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” acted willfully.
The AP reported that the Justice Department official said DOJ prosecutors watched the video “countless” times but could not determine that Pantaleo acted willfully after applying the chokehold on the gasping Garner.
“This is the highest standard of intent imposed by law,” Richard P. Donoghue, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in the news conference Tuesday. “While willfulness may be inferred from blatantly wrongful conduct such as a gratuitous hit to the head, an officer’s mistake, fear, misperception or even poor judgment does not constitute willful conduct under federal criminal civil rights law.”
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, who’s seeking the Democratic’ nomination in the next presidential election, quickly showed his opposition to the decision on Twitter.
“This decision is wrong, unjust and painful reminder of just how broken our criminal justice system is,” Booker said. “Eric Garner should be alive today. I pray his loved ones can find peace.”
Another presidential hopeful, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, called the decision a “miscarriage of justice,” on Twitter.
“Our criminal justice system should be rooted in accountability,” she said. “My heart breaks for Garner.”