A New York City police officer will not face federal charges in the death of Eric Garner, the unarmed black man heard in a video repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” after he was put in a chokehold five years ago.
The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday concluded its five-year investigation and will not bring civil rights or criminal charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was seen in the video with his arm around Garner’s neck.
According to a senior Justice Department official, U.S. Attorney General William Barr made the final decision not to charge Pantaleo, choosing to follow the recommendations of Brooklyn prosecutors.
However, attorneys in the Civil Rights Division thought charges could have been filed, according to two DOJ officials. The decision not to pursue charges comes one day before the five-year anniversary of Garner’s July 17, 2014 death, which was also the deadline for charges to be filed.
Garner, 43, who was asthmatic, was being arrested for allegedly selling untaxed, loose cigarettes. His death sparked national outrage and protests. The phrase “I can’t breathe” which he said 11 times during his arrest became a rallying cry for police reform. A medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, saying the chokehold was the cause.
The chokehold is prohibited by the New York Police Department. Pantaleo has said that he performed a legal move called the “seatbelt” on Garner.