(CN) - A grand jury voted not to bring criminal charges against a white New York City police officer in the chokehold death of a unarmed black Staten Island man with whom he had a confrontation last summer.
The decision was announced by Richmond County District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr., who said Wednesday afternoon, "After deliberation on the evidence presented in this matter, the grand jury found that there was no reasonable cause to vote an indictment."
Eric Garner, 43, died on July 17 after he was wrestled to the ground by police officers arresting him for selling untaxed cigarettes in the shadow of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.
The New York City medical examiner concluded that Garner died from a chokehold and the compression of his chest, and ruled the cause of death a homicide.
The grand jury's decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who held Eric Garner in the chokehold, comes less than two weeks after a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., declined to bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in August.
Although the New York City medical examiner noted that the 300-plus pound Garner was in poor health at the time of his confrontation with police, the medical examiner said the man's health was not the primary cause of his death.
Garner's death inflamed tensions between the New York Police Department and minority communities, and a widely publicized amateur video of the incident sparked widespread protests in the city.
But in contrast to the protests in Ferguson, the demonstrations in and around Garner's Staten Island community have been largely nonconfrontational.
In the wake of those protests, New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton ordered a review of the department's training on use of force, even as he angrily pointed out that the department has banned chokeholds for decades.
The grand jury was empanelled by the district attorney in September. Donovan said the investigation into Garner's death spanned four months, and focused on locating eyewitnesses, speaking to those who provided Garner medical treatment, whether on the scene or at the hospital, and consulting expert witnesses in the area of forensic pathology, policies, procedures, and the training of police officers.
He said 38 interviews were conducted during the investigation, yielding 22 witnesses who reported to have seen some part of the interaction between Eric Garner and the police officers.
During its deliberations, the grand jury also reviewed the video of the arrest and heard testimony from the officers involved.
Pantaleo was the only officer against whom charges were considered.
Reaction to the grand jury was swift.
"How can anyone in the community have faith in the system now?" said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, in a statement.
"First Ferguson, now Staten Island. The grand jury's failure to indict sends the clear message that black lives don't matter. But they do," Warren continued. "It's bad enough that broken-windows policing over something as harmless as selling untaxed cigarettes led to this tragic killing; it's even worse when the officer responsible - who was caught on tape using a prohibited chokehold, no less - is not held accountable."
Warren said he believes the tensions between the city's black community and police are systematic, and blasted Commissioner Bratton's so-called "broken windows" policy, predicated on the notion that cracking down on relatively minor crimes prevents worse offenses.
"We need real reform of discredited broken-windows policing and of the NYPD more than ever," Warren said.
Pantaleo still faces an internal inquiry by the police department, and still faces the possibility of being fired in connection with Garner's death. The city and the officers involved also face a wrongful death civil suit filed by Garner's family in October.
The lawsuit, which was filed with the office of the New York City Comptroller, a mandatory first step for anyone filing suit against the city, seeks $75 million in damages.
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