A Brooklyn federal grand jury heard testimony Wednesday in the long-stalled investigation of Eric Garner’s videotaped 2014 choking death while he was being arrested on Staten Island, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
The grand jury activity follows a Washington Post report last week that Attorney General Loretta Lynch authorized federal prosecutors in the probe to go ahead with the case, but there wasn’t enough time for a grand jury to act before the Trump administration takes over on Friday.
An attorney who has represented an officer involved in the case, approached in the lobby of the Brooklyn federal court, said his client had testified before the grand jury but said he had no insight into the Justice Department’s overall strategy.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” the lawyer said.
“There is a grand jury,” another source confirmed.
A lawyer for the Garner family said he was in touch with the Justice Department “at the highest levels” and was told the case was proceeding.
“I talked with the Department of Justice today and was advised that the investigation is active and ongoing and will continue past Friday,” lawyer Jonathan Moore said.
Garner was choked to death in 2014 when NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo took him down with a neckhold during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes. A state grand jury on Staten Island later declined to indict Pantaleo.
Last year, sources said, prosecutors and FBI agents in New York concluded federal charges, which required proof of an intent to violate Garner’s civil rights, were not warranted, and the case was assigned to the Justice Department’s civil rights division in Washington.
Pantaleo’s lawyer said Wednesday he had no information to confirm the new grand jury activity, and a spokesmen for Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers and the Justice Department said they had no comment.
A grand jury in Brooklyn also heard some testimony in the Garner case last February. It is not known whether the grand jury sitting now is the same grand jury or a new one.
While civil rights advocates have been pessimistic about the chances that Lynch’s likely replacement, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), will pursue the case, it isn’t clear whether a new administration could stop the work of an active grand jury.
Moore said he wasn’t sure of the outcome, but he was encouraged by Wednesday’s developments.
“It’s not bad news,” he said. “We all wonder why it’s taken so long, but I understand that these things take time.”