Reports of federal grand jury buoys hope for Eric Garner family

After a Staten Island grand jury chose not to bring criminal charges over the death of Eric Garner, there seemed little hope of legal action. However, a recent federal grand jury may give the case a second chance.

John Minchillo/AP/File
A demonstrator holds a sign bearing the likeness of Eric Garner and Michael Brown before a march to protest the death of Garner in the Staten Island borough of New York, Aug. 23, 2014. A federal grand jury has been convened in relation to the case, an anonymous source told Reuters on Thursday.

A new hearing raises the possibility of legal action over the 2014 death of Eric Garner. 

A federal grand jury has begun hearing evidence in connection to the death of Eric Garner, who was killed after being placed in a chokehold by a white police officer, an anonymous source told Reuters. The Justice Department had opened a civil rights investigation into the death after a Staten Island grand jury chose not to press criminal charges against Daniel Panteleo, the officer involved. (A sergeant, Kizzy Adonis, is facing departmental disciplinary charges relating to the incident.)

Mr. Garner's death became one of the focal points of the national debate over police brutality and race relations in 2014. The medical examiner who inspected Garner’s body after his death declared it a homicide, though the medical definition of homicide is different from the legal definition.

The new federal grand jury has subpoenaed several police officers and begun hearing evidence, a source familiar with the case told Reuters.

The grand jury proceedings were first reported by The New York Daily News on Wednesday, but a spokeswoman from the US attorney’s office declined to comment on the case and Mr. Pantaleo's attorney has not issued a public comment.

Garner was first questioned by police in Staten Island on July 17, 2014. He was accused of selling “loosies,” or individual cigarettes, illegally. 

The altercation became violent after police attempted to place him under arrest. A cell phone video captures the final moments as Officer Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold and then several officers forced him onto the ground.

In the video, Garner can be heard repeatedly telling the arresting officers “I can’t breathe” before falling unconscious and later dying of suffocation. Chokeholds have been banned under New York City Police Department regulations since 1993.

Garner’s final moments became a rallying cry for protestors angry over police actions and how minorities are treated in the United States.

Last summer, New York City reached a $5.9 million settlement with the Garner family, according to NPR. 

"[The officers] deserve to be prosecuted. They treated my husband like an animal," Garner's widow, Esaw Garner, told NPR.

"The Department of Justice has told us all along that they're taking the matter very seriously," Jonathan Moore, the Garner family’s lawyer, told Reuters. "We're hopeful that they'll do the right thing."

The grand jury proceedings do not guarantee criminal charges will follow.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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