NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An NYPD investigation into the police-custody death of Eric Garner has begun, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Sunday.
The city’s top cop told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the department began interviewing police officers Friday who were involved in the July arrest when Garner died. Bratton said the NYPD could not interview those cops during the criminal investigation, which resulted in a grand jury declining to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who placed Garner in an apparent chokehold.
Bratton said the NYPD investigation will take “upwards of three to four months,” but will likely be wrapped up well before the Department of Justice’s civil rights probe, which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week.
“I will make the final decision in the NYPD,” Bratton said “We will move forward with Internal Affairs investigation directed by our prosecutor, the department advocate. And there will then be a department trial potentially if the advocate finds there are grounds for violations of our rules. That process is an open process, an open trial. That trial judge will then make a finding and make that finding known to me.”
The administrative investigation will look at all the elements of the event, including the actions of all officers present.
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Sources told CBS2 the NYPD probe will specifically try to determine whether Pantaleo used a chokehold, which is not illegal in New York, but is against department policy. In his grand jury testimony, the officer claimed he was using a take-down maneuver he was taught in the police academy and any contact with Garner’s neck was incidental, his lawyer said.
When asked about his personal feelings on what he saw in the video of Garner’s arrest, Bratton said he could not comment, only offering up, “I don’t think that anybody that watches that video is not disturbed by what they saw.”
Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, died after police officers attempted to arrest him for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
In cellphone video of the incident, Pantaleo, who is white, is seen placing his arm around Garner’s neck and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.
Garner, who was black, is heard saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!” He died a short time later.
The New York 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.”
The grand jury’s decision — coming a little more than a week after another grand jury, in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to an indict a white police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager — has sparked days of protests nationwide.
Also on Sunday, several pastors reacting to the Garner case marched around New York City, including one that began at Restoration Plaza in Brooklyn, CBS2 reported.
The pastors said they want to spread a message of prayer and power in the face of an injustice.
Meanwhile Sunday, Garner’s widow accused police of harassing her family before the fatal encounter.
“I’m not going to say he was a career criminal, but I’m going to say he had a past of being arrested,” Esaw Garner told NBC’S “Meet the Press.” “And he never, not once, ever resisted arrest.”
Garner was “murdered unjustly,” his wife said.
Esaw Garner said police knew her husband’s history. “It’s just something that he continued to do and the police knew, you know,” she said.
“They said things to us,” she said. “‘Hi, Cigarette Man. Hey, Cigarette Man Wife,'” she said.
The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Esaw Garner’s claims of harassment.
Esaw Garner said she told her husband to ignore police, but he had a difficult time doing it. She said her husband asked her, “How much can I ignore them?”
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