The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York announced on Tuesday that the Justice Department wouldn’t pursue federal civil rights charges against the New York police officer involved in Eric Garner’s death.
A DOJ spokesperson confirmed to TPM that Attorney General Bill Barr made the final decision after he was briefed on the investigation by the department’s Civil Rights Division and the EDNY.
EDNY U.S. attorney Richard Donoghue, who was first appointed as interim U.S. attorney by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said during a press conference that there was “insufficient evidence” to prove without a reasonable doubt that the NYPD officers involved in the incident “acted in violation of the federal criminal civil rights statute.”
The Obama administration launched the investigation in 2014 after a viral video showed several NYPD officers confronting Garner for allegedly selling illegal cigarettes, then tackling him when he kept asking them why they were accosting him. One officer, Daniel Pantaleo, was seen on video wrapping his forearm around Garner’s neck as other officers tackle Garner to the ground, causing Garner to gasp, “I can’t breathe” several times before he became unconscious.
Garner died an hour after arriving at the hospital. The doctor who performed his autopsy ruled his death as a homicide caused by Pantaleo’s chokehold.
His death further fueled tensions between the police and the black community, which typically experiences higher levels of police brutality than white communities. “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for protesters after a grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges.
New York Attorney General Letitia James criticized the DOJ’s decision on Tuesday.
“The entire world saw the same devastating video five years ago, and our eyes did not lie,” James said in a statement. “Today’s inaction reflects a DOJ that has turned its back on its fundamental mission – to seek and serve justice.”