The Staten Island District Attorney will take the killing of Eric Garner by New York police officers to a grand jury.
Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan said in a statement Tuesday that he will begin presenting evidence to a grand jury next month. "Mindful of the solemn oath to enforce the law that I took when I was first sworn into office as District Attorney in January of 2004, and with a full appreciation that no person is above the law, nor beneath its protection,” Donovan said in a statement. “I assure the public that I am committed to conducting a fair, thorough, and responsible investigation into Mr. Garner's death, and that I will go wherever the evidence takes me, without fear or favor.”
Garner was killed on July 17, when he collapsed as police officer Daniel Pantaleo used what appeared to be an illegal chokehold to subdue him. In a video taken by a bystander, the 43-year-old complained that he couldn’t breathe as officers swarmed him and brought him to the ground. The New York City medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, due to compression of the neck.
Police said that they targeted Garner because they suspected him of selling loose cigarettes.
Ramsey Orta, who recorded the video of Garner’s death, was arrested by police and charged with weapons possession the day after the medical examiner’s report was released. Orta’s wife and mother both reported that police had been harassing him in retaliation for filming Garner’s death. Orta’s wife, Chrissie Ortiz, was also arrested on August 6th.
Chokeholds have been banned by the NYPD for 20 years. Yet on July 26, witnesses caught NYPD officers using a chokehold on a pregnant woman they accused of grilling illegally outside her apartment in Brooklyn.
Garner’s death was the first of four police-involved killings of unarmed black men in one month. John Crawford III, 22, was shot by police in a Wal-Mart after someone called 911 to report him for holding an air rifle sold at the store. Ezell Ford, a 24-year-old with a history of mental illness, was shot and killed by Los Angeles police on August 11.
And in Missouri, the August 9 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson has led to nearly two weeks of protests and a violent police crackdown. Dozens have been arrested, and police have used tear gas, smoke, and rubber bullets against protesters and journalists.
NYPD representatives have defended the police involved in Garner’s death. And both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton have defended the NYPD’s "broken windows" strategy of arresting people for low-level offenses, a strategy that has led to thousands of arrests of black and Latino men in the city.
De Blasio said Monday that he had confidence in Donovan's ability to effectively prosecute the case. Six members of Congress sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder last week asking that a federal prosecutor take over the case. Grand jury proceedings are secret.