No indictment for NYC officer in chokehold death of unarmed man; DOJ to investigate

NEW YORK (KABC) -- A grand jury voted Wednesday not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island.

After the decision was announced, peaceful protests grew throughout New York City with about 200 protesters in Times Square and 300 protesters marching through midtown Manhattan.

Garner's family was not notified in advance, and they were said to be "astounded and astonished." They were with the Rev. Al Sharpton at his National Action Network in Harlem.

Although the grand jury did not indict Pantaleo, the Justice Department official said Attorney General Eric Holder and federal officials will investigate the incident for potential civil rights violations.

VIDEO: Unarmed man dies after confrontation with NYPD

Garner was stopped on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes in July, and amateur video shows the black man telling the officers to leave him alone before Pantaleo, who is white, used what appeared to be a banned chokehold.

"I can't breathe!" Garner was heard yelling.

The medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide and determined that the chokehold contributed to the death.

"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," Garner family attorney Jonathan Moore said. "(It) is really just astonishing."

Moore also released a statement on behalf of the family.

"The family is very upset and disappointed that these officers are not getting indicted for any criminal conduct," he said. "They also want to urge everyone who does protest to do it peacefully."

Garner's father, Ben Garner, spoke out angrily to the Staten Island Advance, saying "Who can control the police department? We had a damn video tape ... I can't control what anyone does, but I want peaceful protests."

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at a news conference, calling for any demonstrations to be peaceful and touching on how the incident has affected him personally. He said the challenge is that the police are present to protect, yet there is a fear of the police among many young people and families. He said he and his wife have worried for years about son Dante's safety and have spoken to him about it.

"I couldn't help but immediately think of what it would mean to me to lose Dante," he said. "Black lives matter... it's a phrase that never should have to be said. But it does have to be said."

President Barack Obama said the decision underscores the need to strengthen the trust and accountability between communities and law enforcement. While not commenting on the decision specifically, he said there are "too many instances where people just do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly."

Obama says police have to deal with crime every day, but says they can do their jobs better if people have confidence in the law enforcement system.

Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan expressed his condolences to the Garner family for their loss, but said the grand jury found that there was no reasonable cause to vote an indictment. The grand jury could have considered a range of charges, from a murder charge to a lesser offense like reckless endangerment, against the officer.

Pantaleo responded to the decision in a written statement.

"I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can't protect themselves," he said. "It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. 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."

Attorney Stuart London said Pantaleo testified last month for a couple of hours, a move many legal experts deemed unusual in such a case. But it is one that they say paid off by painting a different picture that what the video showed.

"My client was gratified that they took the time to listen to everything he said and he knows his future is in their hands," London said.

Pantaleo's partner, Justin D'Amico, testified after being granted immunity from prosecution, he added.

Pantaleo had been stripped of his gun and badge and placed on desk duty while the case was under investigation. He is likely to remain on modified duty while the NYPD conducts an internal investigation that could result in administrative charges.

In his statement, Donovan said he applied apply for a court order seeking authorization to publicly release specific information in connection with this grand jury investigation. That application is under consideration by the court.

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