Protests were expected in New York after a grand jury on Wednesday declined to indict a white NYPD officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man on Staten Island — and the officer involved issued a statement expressing his “personal condolences” over the death of Eric Garner.
A grand jury decided there was not probable cause to charge officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July 17 death of Eric Garner, who was put in a chokehold by Pantaleo during an arrest for allegedly selling unlicensed cigarettes, and later died after telling officers, “I can’t breathe!”
In a statement delivered through the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Pantaleo offered his condolences to Garner’s family after the grand jury indictment became known.
“I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can't protect themselves. It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” Pantaleo said in the statement. “My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss."
The medical examiner’s office had ruled Garner’s death a homicide and cell phone video captured the incident. The grand jury 's decision comes a week after a grand jury in Missouri declined to indict white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Jonathan Moore, an attorney for Garner's family, told the Associated Press that he was surprised by the grand jury’s decision. "I am actually astonished based on the evidence of the video tape, and the medical examiner, that this grand jury at this time wouldn't indict for anything, is really just astonishing," Moore said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio cancelled an appearance at the Rockefeller Christmas Tree lighting and said he would meet with elected officials and clergy on Staten Island. “This is a deeply emotional day — for the Garner Family, and all New Yorkers. His death was a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure,” de Blasio said in a statement.
The mayor urged that protests remain peaceful. He said that “this chapter is not yet over” that the NYPD will continue to conduct its internal investigation, the U.S. Attorney is looking into the incident, and that the city is committed to improving policing — including launching a pilot program to equip cops with body cameras.
“The problem of police-community relations and civil rights is not just an issue for people of color — or young people — or people who get stopped by police. This is a fundamental issue for every American who cares about justice.” de Blasio said. "All of us must work together to make this right — to work for justice — and to build the kind of city and nation we need to be."
U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries joined other New York lawmakers to blast the grand jury’s decision, calling it “a miscarriage of justice.” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement that she was “shocked” by the grand jury’s decision. “The death of Eric Garner is a tragedy that demands accountability. Nobody unarmed should die on a New York City street corner for suspected low-level offenses. I'm shocked by this grand jury decision, and will be calling on the Department of Justice to investigate," she said.
The executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Donna Lieberman, called on the NYPD to change its “culture of impunity” in the wake of Garner’s death and the grand jury’s decision.
“Unless the Police Department aggressively deals with its culture of impunity and trains officers that they must simultaneously protect both safety and individual rights, officers will continue to believe that they can act without consequence,” she said in a statement.
Richmond County District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr., the prosecutor in the case, expressed his “condolences to Eric Garner's family for their loss, and to acknowledge the heartache of his mother, his wife, his children, as well as his other family members, loved ones, and friends, who have consistently carried themselves with grace during the past four months."
PBA President Patrick Lynch defended the grand jury’s decision Wednesday and said "there are no winners here today."
"There was a loss of life that both a family and a police officer will always have to live with. It is clear that the officer's intention was to do nothing more than take Mr. Garner into custody as instructed and that he used the take down technique that he learned in the academy when Mr. Garner refused,” Lynch, said after the grand jury’s decision became known. “No police officer starts a shift intending to take another human being's life and we are all saddened by this tragedy."