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Eric Garner death probe pledge as New Yorkers vent fury after officer Pantaleo cleared over 'chokehold' fatality

Federal authorities in New York have vowed to hold an “independent, thorough, fair and expeditious” investigation into the death of Eric Garner - after white police officer Daniel Pantaleo was cleared of blame over the chokehold death of the unarmed black man he had stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

US Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday that the Justice Department will now proceed with a federal civil rights investigation, adding that a “complete review of the material gathered during the local investigation” will be conducted.

Mr Garner died on 17 July after being restrained by police. He had been stopped on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes, and after refusing to be handcuffed, was physically restrained by a number of police, with officer Daniel Panteleo gripping him by the neck.

A recording of the incident emerged online, with Mr Garner heard shouting “I can’t breathe” repeatedly. The city’s medical examiner’s office found he died due to “the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police”.

The grand jury’s decision not to indict Mr Panteleo comes just weeks after the white police officer who shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was not indicted, sparking further protests and widespread unrest in the Missouri town.

Attorney General Holder said: “We have all seen the video of Mr Garner’s arrest. His death, of course, was a tragedy. All lives must be valued.

“Mr Garner’s death is one of several recent incidents across the country that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect.

He added that the vast majority of the police perform their duties honourably and are “committed to respecting their fellow citizens’ civil rights” in their duties, and said it is for these peoples’ sake as well that “we must seek to heal the breakdown in trust we have seen”.

“I know that substantial numbers of people in New York and across the country will be disappointed and frustrated by the outcome of the state grand jury proceeding today.

“I know many will plan to voice their disappointment publicly through protests.  This is the right of all Americans,” he said, urging those choosing to protest to do so without violence and “not to engage in activities that deflect our attention from the very serious matters our nation must confront”.

Hundreds of New Yorkers took to the streets in protest on Wednesday night, many staging sit-in and “die-in” protests, either protesting in silence or chanting “I can’t breathe!” and “Hand’s up, don’t choke!” across the city.

The decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to charge Pantaleo heightened tensions that have simmered in the city since the Garner's death on July 17 . The videotaped arrest sparked outrage and has drawn comparisons to the deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

In the neighbourhood where Mr Garner died, people reacted with angry disbelief and chanted: "I can't breathe!" and "Hands up - don't choke!"

In anticipation of yesterday's announcement on the grand jury decision, police chiefs met community leaders on Staten Island to head off a repeat of the response in Ferguson, where a grand jury decided last week not to charge the white officer who shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Demonstrations there resulted in more than 100 arrests and 12 commercial buildings were burned down.

US president Barack Obama said the Pantaleo grand jury decision underscored the need to strengthen the trust and accountability between communities and police. The US Justice Department will conduct a investigation into 43-year-old Mr Garner's death, attorney general Eric Holder said.

While not commenting on the decision specifically, Mr Obama said there were "too many instances where people just do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly".

As with 18-year-old Mr Brown's death, the Garner case sparked protests, accusations of racist policing and calls for federal prosecutors to intervene. But unlike the Missouri protests, the demonstrations in New York remained mostly peaceful.

Mr Garner's stepfather, Benjamin Carr, urged calm but said the ruling made no sense.

"It's just a licence to kill a black man," he said, calling the justice system "not worth a damn".


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In his first public comments on the death, Officer Pantaleo has said he prays for Mr Garner's family and hopes they accept his condolences.

The police union and Officer Pantaleo's lawyer said he used a recognised police takedown move, not a banned technique, because Mr Garner was resisting arrest. They said his poor health was the main reason he died.

Staten Island district attorney Daniel Donovan said the grand jury found "no reasonable cause" to bring charges. It could have considered a range of charges, from murder to a lesser offence such as reckless endangerment.

"I am actually astonished based on the evidence of the videotape, and the medical examiner, that this grand jury at this time wouldn't indict for anything," said Jonathan Moore, a lawyer for Mr Garner's family.

The family held a news conference with civil rights leader the Rev Al Sharpton and New York mayor Bill de Blasio cancelled his planned appearance at the annual Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree lighting to speak at a Staten Island church as city-wide protests started to gather steam.

"Today's outcome is one that many in our city did not want," he saidt. "Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest."

A video shot by an onlooker and widely viewed on the internet showed Mr Garner telling a group of police officers to leave him alone as they tried to arrest him. Officer Pantaleo responded by wrapping his arm around Mr Garner's neck in what appeared to be a chokehold, which is banned under NYPD policy.

Heavy-set Mr Garner, who had asthma, was heard repeatedly gasping: "I can't breathe!"

A second video surfaced that showed police and paramedics appearing to make no effort to revive Mr Garner while he lay motionless on the ground. He died later at a hospital.

After the grand jury decision, demonstrations began in the city. In Times Square a crowd of at least 200 people held signs saying, saying "Black lives matter", ''Fellow white people, wake up" and "Once again, no justice".

The case prompted New York police commissioner William Bratton to order officers in the nation's largest police force to retrain on the use of force.

The coroner ruled Mr Garner's death a homicide and found that a chokehold contributed to it. Dr Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist hired by Mr Garner's family, agreed with those findings, saying there was haemorrhaging on Mr Garner's neck which indicated neck compressions.

While details on the grand jurors were not disclosed, Staten Island is the most politically conservative of the city's five boroughs and home to many police and firefighters.

Mr Donovan said he filed a court order to release information on the investigation.

Officer Pantaleo was stripped of his gun and badge and put on desk duty while the case was investigated. Mr Bratton said he would be suspended while the NYPD conducted an internal probe that could result in administrative charges.

 

 

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