CREDIT: Screenshot/ New York Daily News
A grand jury voted not to file any charges against David Pantaleo, the New York Police Department cop who took the life of Eric Garner after putting him in a chokehold — a maneuver banned by the police department.
The decision, announced through a source Wednesday afternoon to the New York Times and other news outlets, means Pantaleo may never face a public trial unless he is charged by federal or other authorities later.
The incident started with allegations that Garner had committed the very minor offense of selling untaxed cigarettes and ended with a violent chokehold that is banned by the New York Police Department. In the video, Garner is heard screaming, “I can’t breathe!” The incident was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.
Police crackdowns of “loose” cigarettes are part of a larger focus in New York City on what are known as “quality of life” offenses — minor infractions that police consider part of a “broken windows” policing that reasons targeting minor crimes prevents more major ones. But as the incident with Garner shows, additional arrests present new opportunities for violence. These arrests have overwhelmingly impacted African Americans and Hispanics.
“It should be a cautionary tale to the police department about how it’s going about enforcing low-level offenses,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn.
This is a drastic, monumental contrast from how most grand jury indictments are handled for ordinary criminal defendants, rather than police defendants. Prosecutors in many jurisdictions go through as many as 40 indictments in a single day. The duration of the proceeding also suggests that District Attorney Daniel Donovan is presenting much more to the grand jury than is typical — or even appropriate — in a grand jury proceeding, when the prosecutor’s sole job is to show probable cause.
Holding police accountable is exceedingly difficult and rare, according to limited available data on police firings, charges, and prosecutions. By contrast, grand juries overwhelming vote to indict most criminal defendants.
Unlike in Michael Brown’s case, Garner’s death was videotaped by a bystander, Ramsey Orta. Orta’s video eliminated much of the conflicting eyewitness accounts that dominated hours of testimony in Darren Wilson’s grand jury. But the head of the largest New York City police union, Patrick Lynch, accused Orta of “demonizing good police work.”
Pantaleo has thus far not returned to work, and could still face other discipline from the police department.