Staten Island prosecutors said Tuesday they will present evidence to a special grand jury in the case of Eric Garner, the accused cigarette peddler put in a banned chokehold by an NYPD officer, to determine if criminal charges are warranted against the officers involved in the fatal struggle.
In a carefully crafted three paragraph statement the borough's district attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr., said that a judge had authorized the impaneling of an "additional" grand jury to hear evidence in the case. Garner, died July 17 in what the city medical examiner said was a homicide caused by a choke hold and compression of his chest as he appeared to resist arrest by police. A bystander videoed the confrontation and it later went viral.
"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," said Donovan, Staten Island's district attorney since 2004.
Legal experts say if criminal charges are brought they would likely range from criminally negligent homicide to the more serious manslaughter in the second degree. Both are felonies.
Despite Donovan's decision, attorney Sanford Rubenstein said members of Garner's family still will press federal prosecutors to take the case. The family, as well as Rev. Al Sharpton, plan to meet with Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch on Thursday to push for federal involvement, Rubenstein told Newsday.
James DiPietro, a Brooklyn defense attorney not involved in the case, said the impaneling of an additional grand jury means the panel will hear only the Garner matter. Usually New York City has regular grand juries that hear evidence on several cases at the same time, explained DiPietro.
Donovan's decision was applauded by Mayor Bill de Blasio who said in a statement that "New York City deserves an investigation into the Garner case that is fair and complete."
Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch, who recently lambasted the medical examiner's report on Garner's death as being a political document, said his union was confident the grand jury would base its decision on facts and not emotion.
Defense attorney Stuart London, who represents Daniel Pantaleo, the officer seen on a video using an apparent choke hold to take down Garner, couldn't be reached for comment. Pantaleo was stripped of his badge and gun after Garner's death. A second officer was placed on desk duty but retained his gun and shield.
Barry Levin, a criminal defense attorney in Garden City not involved in the matter, said that a second degree manslaughter charge is possible if the grand jury finds the apparent choke hold was recklessly used by Pantaleo. The NYPD banned the choke hold over two decades ago.
-- Matthew Chayes contributed to this story