NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A grand jury will look into the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died while in police custody last month, the borough District Attorney’s office announced Tuesday.
As CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, a month past Garner’s death after he was put in a chokehold while being arrested in Tompkinsville, the Staten Island District Attorney said the march is on to determine whether criminal charges should be brought in the case.
“Based upon the investigation that my office has conducted to date regarding the July 17, 2014, death of Eric Garner, and after a careful review of the recent findings of the Medical Examiner regarding the cause and manner of Mr. Garner’s death, I have determined that it is appropriate to present evidence regarding the circumstances of his death to a Richmond County Grand Jury,” said District Attorney Daniel Donovan Jr. “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.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was pleased with the decision.
“New York City deserves an investigation into the Garner case that is fair and complete. We are pleased that with today’s announcement, the legal process is now underway,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also lauded the decision.
“I commend the decision by Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan to convene a Grand Jury and applaud his actions,” Mark-Viverito said in a statement.
“In this highly emotional case, the District Attorney has shown how seriously he is taking the matter and the next step will be the presentation of the case. We must also not forget that the New York City Police Department protects New Yorkers every day and the vast majority do so honorably and with great professionalism. As a City we must always strive for fairness and justice and it is my hope that the legal process plays out New Yorkers will continue to come together rather than allow our city to be divided,” Mark-Viverito continued.
A spokesman for NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said the District Attorney will get the full cooperation of the Police Department.
The New York City Medical Examiner’s office previously ruled Garner’s death a homicide caused by “compression of his neck (chokehold), compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”
Chokeholds are banned by the NYPD.
The grand jury will reportedly look at the actions of all police involved, as well as the Emergency Medical Services workers who responded.
Garner’s family was not excited about the development.
“The fact that the state grand jury has been convened does not change anything. The family wants the federal government to come in and prosecute this case,” said Garner family attorney Sanford Rubenstein.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and members of the Garner family have argued that they do not think they can get a fair hearing in state court.
“The family believes if the federal government comes in, they will get justice,” Rubenstein said.
In a statement, Sharpton himself belittled Donovan’s announcement about the grand jury.
“This announcement does not impact our move for federal takeover of this case at all,” he said.
Neither the NYPD nor the Mayor’s office called for federal intervention, and Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said a federal intervention is not necessary.
“How can you say you want a fair investigation, or the investigation that’s going on is not fair, before it’s completed? How can you say we need to take this out of one District Attorney’s hands when the autopsy report has not been released?” Lynch said. “Al Sharpton just wants to walk through the streets and blame the police for everything that goes on in the world. That’s not the case.”
The 43-year-old father of six died July 17 on Staten Island after he had been stopped by police for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island.
In cellphone video of the incident, an officer is seen placing his arm around Garner’s neck in a chokehold and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.
Garner is heard saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!”
PHOTOS: Eric Garner’s Funeral
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who was seen on video placing Garner in an apparent chokehold, and another unidentified officer were placed on modified reassignment pending the outcome of the case.
Four emergency workers were suspended without pay pending an investigation.
Garner’s videotaped confrontation with police has caused widespread outcry and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Justice Department is “closely monitoring” the investigation into Garner’s death.
Accompanied by Sharpton, the Garner family plans to meet with the U.S. Attorney on Thursday to see if the case can be superseded. One of the reasons they want it in federal court is that there would be a guarantee of a jury trial, while in state court, defendants can seek a bench trial where only a judge hears the case.
Sharpton is also planning a rally on Staten Island this Saturday to protest Garner’s death.
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