Justice Dept. To Conduct Federal Investigation Into Staten Island Man's Death


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A New York City judge has released limited details of the grand jury proceeding in the Eric Garner case, including that four videos were shown and 50 witnesses were heard.

Judge Stephen Rooney released the material Thursday after Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan asked if he could speak on the secret proceeding following the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in connection with Garner’s death.

WEB EXTRA: Read Judge’s Response To DA’s Information Request

The jury sat for nine weeks. It heard testimony from 22 civilian witnesses and 28 others, including police officers, emergency medical personnel and doctors.

There also were 60 exhibits admitted into evidence. They included four videos, NYPD records and autopsy information.

PHOTOS: Thursday Night Protests In NYC

Donovan didn’t seek the release of transcripts, testimony or exhibits.

“I respect the court’s exercise of its discretion and will abide by the court’s order,” Donovan said in a statement Thursday. “As such, I will have no further comment in connection with the grand jury proceedings relating to the matter of the investigation into the death of Eric Garner.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday the Justice Department will conduct a federal investigation into the case.

The investigation will look for potential civil rights investigations in the July 17 death of Garner, 43, who was confronted by police on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

In cellphone video of the incident, Pantaleo, who is white, is seen placing his arm around Garner’s neck in what appeared to be a chokehold and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.

MORE: Politicians, Officials React To Decision

Garner, who was black, is heard saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!” He died a short time later.

The city medical examiner’s office ruled Garner’s death a homicide, caused by the officer’s apparent chokehold as well as chest and neck compressions and prone positioning “during physical restraint by police.” Asthma, heart disease and obesity were also contributing factors.

Calling the death a “tragedy,” Holder said it was one of “several recent incidents that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect.”

The death occurred weeks before the deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, a case also under investigation by the Justice Department and in which a local grand jury last week also cleared an officer of wrongdoing. The cases together have contributed to a national discussion about use of excessive force by police and their treatment of minorities.

“This is not a New York issue or a Ferguson issue alone,” Holder told reporters late Wednesday. “Those who have protested peacefully across our great nation following the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson have made that clear.”

The federal investigation was announced hours after the grand jury chose not to indict Pantaleo, who remains on desk duty. The decision prompted protests around New York City and across the country.

The grand jury could have considered multiple charges, from murder to a lesser offense such as reckless endangerment, but Donovan said jurors found “no reasonable cause” to bring charges.

Following the decision, Donovan applied for a court order to release specific information in the case to the public, which is required under state law.

Many were hoping the judge would allow some of the documents to be released because it will give them a glimpse into how the jurors came to their decision.

“I would like to have seen how the police officer was cross-examined,” said state Assemblyman-elect Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn. “I would like to have seen this testimony.”

Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, and union officials argued that the grand jury got it right, saying he used an authorized take-down move, not a banned chokehold, and that Garner’s poor health was the main cause of his death.

“He ended up using a take-down method the way was taught in the academy and when Mr. Garner was not compliant, then it became more complicated,” London told 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa. “Although it may look one way, when explained properly, as my client did in front of the grand jury, you can see that although it looks like the arm is around the neck, there’s no pressure being applied at all.”

To mount a federal prosecution in police misconduct cases, officials have to satisfy an extremely difficult legal standard — that the officer willfully violated a victim’s civil rights and used more force than the law allowed.

Pantaleo also faces a full department probe from the NYPD. The administrative investigation will look at all the elements of the event, including the actions of all officers present.

Check Out These Other Stories From CBSNewYork.com:

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)