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Justice Dept Will Not Bring Federal Charges Against Officer In Eric Garner Death


We have confirmation this morning that the Justice Department will not bring federal charges against the New York City police officer who was responsible for the chokehold that killed a man named Eric Garner. Eric Garner was a black man. He was unarmed, and his death was caught on cellphone videos. His last words, I can't breathe, became a rallying cry for protests across the country. Cindy Rodriguez of member station WNYC has been covering the case, and she's on the line with us now from outside the courtroom. Good morning, Cindy.

CINDY RODRIGUEZ, BYLINE: Hi, Noel. Noel, I'm actually at the offices of federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, waiting for them to start a press conference, and it's scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.

KING: I appreciate the clarification. Yes, this press conference is set to begin 11 a.m., which is where we were supposed to learn that the Justice Department will not bring federal charges. That information was leaked to the press. Cindy, what can you tell us about this decision? What are the specifics here?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, at this point, all I can say is that we have confirmed from sources familiar with the case that federal prosecutors will not be bringing criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Our sources include one law enforcement source.

KING: Cindy, I wonder if you can remind us of some of the history of this case because this was a deeply traumatic and divisive moment for New York City. As you say, it involved this police officer, New York Police officer Daniel Pantaleo. How did he and Eric Garner cross paths in the first place?

RODRIGUEZ: So they crossed paths because officer Daniel Pantaleo and his partner were out in Staten Island trying to arrest Eric Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes. Eric Garner protested. The officers - during Daniel Pantaleo's disciplinary trial, officers and Daniel Pantaleo's supervisor said they were sent out there because business owners were complaining. So during this altercation, Mr. Garner protested and said, this has to stop. You guys have been harassing me.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo, at some point, put his arm around Eric Garner's death - I'm sorry - neck to take him down, brought him down to the ground. Other officers were on top of him. He was in this prone position on a very hot summer day. They were pushing his chest against the sidewalk. A medical examiner has testified that he died from all of these events - the chest compression, the arm around the neck - that led to him having an asthma attack and ultimately dying.

KING: Officer Pantaleo still works for the New York Police Department, although he is in a desk job; he did have to surrender his gun. Is there a chance that he's going to lose his job at this point?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes. So a disciplinary trial ended in June, and so the result of that disciplinary trial has not been announced yet. And actually, because of a law in New York state, it doesn't have to be announced. But since this is such a big, high-profile case, it will probably be leaked. We still don't know what that judge in that case is going to decide, but she can decide either to - she could recommend to fire officer Pantaleo. She could recommend other things as well. But it is ultimately the police commissioner who will decide.

KING: Reporter Cindy Rodriguez, with member station WNYC. Cindy, thanks so much.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cindy Rodriguez
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.