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December 4, 2014

Grand jury decides against indictment in Eric Garner case

A grand jury has decided that New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo will not be charged in the death of Eric Garner, who died on July 17 after Pantaleo placed an arm around his neck.

The officer had stopped Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. A video shows Garner repeating “I can’t breathe” while Pantaleo maintains the grasp on his neck. A medical examiner ruled his death homicide by choking and chest compression.

The decision means that Pantaleo will not receive criminal charges for the incident. It is not publicly known what specific charges were presented to the grand jury.

The NYPD officially bans the use of the chokehold, which Pantaleo appeared to use on Garner in the video. The question of whether the maneuver was a chokehold has been central to the debate over the incident.

Pantaleo told the grand jury that he had been using a wrestling maneuver that he had learned during training and that he did not mean to hurt Garner. He said he tried to disengage from Garner has soon as he heard him say “I can’t breathe.” The New York Times noted that this description does not appear to match the video of the incident, in which Pantaleo seems to remain on Garner as Garner repeats himself.

Protests broke out across the country after the announcement, which follows a recent and similar decision by a grand jury not to indict a white police officer in the death of an unarmed black man. A grand jury announced Nov. 24 that Officer Darren Wilson would receive criminal charges after he shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 7.

There are two other investigations into the case pending. An NYPD internal affairs investigation will determine if Pantaleo adhered to protocol, and the Department of Justice announced that it will open a civil rights investigation into the case.

Pantaleo remains on the police force pending the results of the NYPD investigation.


Warm up questions
  1. Imagine you are a judge or someone on a jury, how would you decide if someone had intended to kill another person? What kinds of evidence would you want to have?
  2. What is the purpose of a police force?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What were some of the similarities and differences between the situation in New York and the one in Ferguson, Missouri?
  2. The New York Police Department (NYPD) pledged to retrain its 35,000 officers immediately following the death of Eric Garner and is currently in the process of doing so. Specifically, they are focusing on:
    • use of force
    • use of language
    • techniques to use in the field

    Do you think this is enough? What other ways might the NYPD improve their procedures and, possibly most important, their relationship with people of color in New York?

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