NEW YORK (AP) — Saying “no person is above the law, nor beneath its protection,” a New York prosecutor announced Tuesday that he would ask a grand jury to consider charges in the death of a black man placed in an apparent chokehold by a white police officer.
Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said an extra grand jury was being assembled next month specifically to hear evidence in the July 17 death of Eric Garner.
“I assure the public that I am committed to conducting a fair, thorough and responsible investigation into Mr. Garner’s death, and that I will go wherever the evidence takes me, without fear or favor,” Donovan said in a statement.
Garner’s death fueled outcry and several peaceful protests against the nation’s largest police department and led Commissioner William Bratton to overhaul its training on use-of-force.
The 43-year-old father of six could be heard on an amateur video shouting “I can’t breathe!” as Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in an apparent chokehold. Police said the officers were arresting Garner on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
Garner, who had asthma, later died.
Donovan said his decision to take the case to a grand jury was based on his office’s investigation and the medical examiner’s ruling that the death was a homicide caused by neck compressions from the chokehold, chest compression and Garner’s prone position while being restrained.
Donovan said a court granted his request for the extra grand jury on Monday. He said in a statement that he would make no additional comment about the panel’s work, including possible witnesses and charges, to maintain proceedings’ secrecy.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement he was pleased that the legal process was underway.
“New York City deserves an investigation into the Garner case that is fair and complete,” De Blasio said.
Pantaleo, an eight-year NYPD veteran, was stripped of his gun and badge after Garner’s death.
His lawyer, Stuart London, said it was too early to say whether his client would testify before the grand jury.
Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said the union expected a grand jury investigation and expressed confidence that “a fair and impartial grand jury that is allowed to conduct its deliberations based on facts and not emotion or political considerations will see that justice is served.”
Civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton plans to lead a march to Donovan’s office on Saturday. Protesters are calling for Donovan to file criminal charges or let federal prosecutors take over.
Several members of New York’s congressional delegation have asked for the Justice Department to investigate. They questioned whether Donovan, a Republican, could adequately investigate the case given his close working relationship with police and the borough’s large population of police officers.
Sharpton said he, Garner’s family and the family’s lawyers will meet Thursday with U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch to reiterate their desire for a federal investigation.
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