The Justice Department will not bring federal charges against a New York City police officer in the death of Eric Garner, ending a yearslong inquiry into a case that sharply divided officials and prompted national protests over excessive force by police, according to two people briefed on the decision.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn intend to announce the decision not to bring civil rights or criminal charges Tuesday, just one day before the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death. That is the deadline by which they would have to file some of the possible charges against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo.
The decision extinguishes the hopes of the Garner family and their supporters that Pantaleo might face prosecution in a case that ignited demonstrations and debates over the use of force by police officers and led to changes in policing practices across the United States.
In June, the Police Department finished a disciplinary trial to determine if Pantaleo should be fired or punished in some other way for using what appeared to be a chokehold, which the department had banned more than two decades ago.
It is ultimately up to Commissioner James P. O’Neill, as the final arbiter of police discipline, to decide whether to fire Pantaleo or take less drastic action. But he will not make a formal decision until the police administrative judge who oversaw the disciplinary trial renders her verdict.
Pantaleo, 34, has been on desk duty without a shield or a gun since Garner died, a status that has allowed him to accrue pay and pension benefits.
Garner, who was 43, died on a Staten Island sidewalk July 17, 2014, after Pantaleo wrapped an arm around his neck from behind and took him to the ground and other officers put their weight on him, compressing his chest against the pavement. A medical examiner testified at the disciplinary hearing that the pressure on Garner’s neck and chest set in motion a fatal asthma attack.
Some bystanders captured video of the attack on their cellphones, recording Garner as he gasped “I can’t breathe,” dying words that became a rallying cry for protesters across the nation.
None of the New York officers involved in Garner’s death have been charged with a crime or disciplined by the Police Department.
A state grand jury declined to bring charges against Pantaleo in December 2014.