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US policeman won't face charges for chokehold that may have contributed to death of Eric Garner

The decision effectively ended the five-year-old case.

Eric Garner, right, poses with his children  (file photo)
Eric Garner, right, poses with his children (file photo)
Image: AP

A NEW YORK police officer accused of placing a 43-year-old black man in a chokehold that may have contributed to his death in 2014 will not face federal charges, US Justice Department officials have said.

The decision effectively closed the five-year-old case that had fuelled national “Black Lives Matter” protests calling for police around the country to be held accountable for the deaths of unarmed African-Americans in their custody or facing arrest.

Richard Donoghue, the US attorney in Brooklyn, said there was “insufficient evidence” that officer Daniel Pantaleo broke the law or contributed to the death of Eric Garner when he placed him in a chokehold during an arrest on 17 July, 2014.

Garner, who was being detained for allegedly illegally selling cigarettes on the street, repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” to officers holding him down and after Pantaleo pulled away from his neck.

He then appeared to lose consciousness, and the father of six was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

‘Terrible tragedy’

“The death of Eric Garner was a terrible tragedy. But having thoroughly investigated the surrounding circumstances, the department has concluded that the evidence would not support federal civil rights charges against any officer,” Donoghue said.

“We know and we understand that some will be disappointed by this decision but it is the conclusion that was compelled by the evidence and the law.”

The decision not to charge Pantaleo or any other officer came one day before the statute of limitations ran out on the case, and after years of pressure by Garner’s mother and supporters for federal prosecution in the case after a New York state grand jury decided in December 2014 that there was not evidence to support homicide charges.

“The DOJ has failed us,” Garner’s mother Gwen Carr said.

“I’m not feeling very good right now. But I still have hope,” she said.

According to reports, the decision not to press civil rights or other charges against any police officers was made by Attorney General Bill Barr.

African-American rights leader Al Sharpton demanded that Pantaleo be fired, while New York Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed disappointment in the Justice Department.

“Years ago, we put our faith in the federal government to act. We won’t make that mistake again,” said de Blasio, who is running for president.

Illegal chokehold

The arrest of Garner by four officers was recorded by a bystander on a cellphone. The footage went viral and sparked an uproar.

It showed Pantaleo putting his arm tightly around the much larger suspect’s neck, driving him down to the pavement before releasing him.

Another officer pressed Garner’s head to the pavement, and he complained 11 times that he could not breathe.

After an autopsy, medical examiners called Garner’s death a homicide, saying he suffered “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”

Even though chokeholds are outlawed by New York police, a grand jury declined to press charges against Pantaleo or others in December 2014, amid claims that Garner suffered from a heart condition and asthma that could have caused his death.

His family then turned to the Justice Department to consider whether federal criminal or civil rights charges could be brought against one or more officers in the case.

The federal probe lingered for years before the department decided against charges Tuesday, a delay that Donoghue called “totally inappropriate.”

New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, also running for president, called the decision not to prosecutor “an outrage.”

“Five years after Eric Garner was placed in a banned chokehold in clear violation of NYPD policy, and said ‘I can’t breathe’ eleven times on video, his family still can’t get justice,” she said.

- © AFP 2019

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