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Eric Garner's widow, accepting NYC's $5.9M settlement, still wants criminal charges filed

Esaw Garner, wife of Eric Garner, speaks alongside

Esaw Garner, wife of Eric Garner, speaks alongside the Rev. Al Sharpton during a service for her husband at the Mount Sinai Center for Community Enrichment on Saturday, July 19, 2014, in Staten Island. Credit: AP / John Minchillo

Eric Garner's heirs said the city government's $5.9 million legal settlement for his death at the hands of an NYPD cop won't slow the family's quest for the officer's criminal prosecution.

Appearing Tuesday at the Rev. Al Sharpton's Harlem National Action Network headquarters, Garner's widow, Esaw Snipes, said only the cop's arrest and conviction would soothe her grief.

"They treated my husband like an animal," she said, adding, "They need to do something about that ASAP."

The decision to settle, announced Monday, was made by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has the discretion under the charter to do so if he chooses once a notice of claim is lodged and even before a formal lawsuit is filed.

"Money is not justice. Money is a recognition of the loss of the family," Sharpton said from his National Action Network pulpit.

An attorney for the family, Jonathan Moore, said the legal team hadn't yet worked out how much the lawyers would take, or how the payout would be portioned out to Garner's various family members.

Stringer spokesman Eric Sumberg said the comptroller did not set a cap on legal fees in the Garner case. On Tuesday, Sumberg said that the comptroller cannot modify such fees, but on Wednesday he clarified that the comptroller may have that discretion in certain instances.

The family has vowed to keep pressure on the authorities to lodge a criminal case against the police officer who administered the apparent chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo.

"Don't congratulate us. This is not a victory. The victory will come when we get justice. Then we're going to have a victory party," said Gwen Carr, Garner's mother. "But now we still need you all to stand with us as we go forward for this weekend."

Carr deemed it "Eric Garner Commemoration Weekend," with events from Brooklyn to Harlem to Staten Island. The family plans to rally Saturday at the Brooklyn headquarters of the United States attorney for the Eastern District, which is considering the family's request to prosecute the case.

"At the grand jury we didn't receive justice," Carr said of the Staten Island panel led by the borough's district attorney.

Late Tuesday night, Mayor Bill de Blasio attended a prayer service in Garner's memory on Staten Island.

"Brothers and sisters, Eric Garner did not die in vain," de Blasio said. ". . . It's been a long, cold season of sorrow, but we remember that seasons change and now in every sense summer has come. We feel its warmth."

Among the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other clerics at the Mount Sinai United Christian Church was Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, who worked to ease tensions among activists, police unions and de Blasio in the months after Garner's death.

Tuesday night Dolan wondered aloud whether "the grief that began a year ago just down the street . . . that seemed to ooze like a toxic oil spill" could "be an opening for God to transform us?"

Garner died July 17 last year after Pantaleo placed him in an apparent chokehold on a Staten Island sidewalk. Pantaleo had been trying to arrest Garner, 43, on suspicion of peddling untaxed cigarettes. The encounter was captured on a bystander's cellphone camera.

The case -- and the grand jury's decision last December not to indict Pantaleo, who placed his arm around Garner's neck as he whimpered 11 times, "I can't breathe" -- set off waves of local and national protests.

Since then, Carr and other women whose loved ones had been killed by police successfully lobbied the governor to appoint a special prosecutor to handle cases like her son's. The order only applies to future cases.

With John Riley

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information on the comptroller's discretion in modifying legal fees.

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