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Federal probe sought in chokehold case

Demonstrators gather outside the funeral service for Eric

Demonstrators gather outside the funeral service for Eric Garner at Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn on July 23, 2014. Credit: Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary

The family of Eric Garner, who died after being arrested with a banned chokehold, appealed Friday to the federal government to consider prosecuting the case instead of the Staten Island district attorney.

Accompanied by their lawyers and the Rev. Al Sharpton, Garner's mother, Gwen Carr; his widow, Esaw Garner; and his eldest daughter, Erica Garner, met for about a half-hour with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn. They are calling for the arrests of the police officers who wrangled Garner to the ground as well as the medics the family says failed to treat him after.

"There can be no doubt that at some point in 11 cries of 'I can't breathe,' that intent is established. There can be no doubt, based on the videotapes," Sharpton said after the meeting.

He was referring to cellphone video shot July 17 by bystanders that show police putting Garner, accused of peddling untaxed cigarettes, in an NYPD-banned chokehold, pushing him to the ground and kneeing his face into the pavement as he whimpers, "I can't breathe."

In a statement late Friday afternoon, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, "We are closely monitoring the city's investigation."

Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said federal authorities are not themselves investigating the case.

He declined to comment further, except to confirm the family's meeting with Taryn A. Merkl, the region's chief of civil rights for the criminal division, and James G. McGovern, chief of the criminal division -- and, according to his LinkedIn profile, a former Staten Island assistant district attorney.

Sharpton, speaking afterward to reporters, said he and the family want the Staten Island district attorney's office -- which is now investigating the Garner case -- to defer jurisdiction to the federal government, which has prosecuted past police abuse cases, including the 1997 beating and sodomy of Abner Louima by the NYPD in a Brooklyn station house.

Federal statutes tend to be broader than state law and punishments far more severe. One of the officers in the Louima case is still in prison.

Douglas C. Auer, spokesman for Staten Island District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr., had no comment about the family's demands.

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