Eric Garner

Sometimes Cameras Don't Help: Grand Jury Declines to Indict Cop Who Put Eric Garner in Fatal Chokehold

|

Eric Garner in chokehold
screencap

A grand jury empaneled in Staten Island to decide whether to charge Officer Daniel Pantaleo over the death of Eric Garner has declined to forward any charges to the prosecutor. Pantaleo put Garner in a fatal chokehold after the 300 pound man was accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, something he vehemently denied. The incident was caught on tape but it didn't help produce an indictment.

Grand juries, which rely on vigorous prosecutors, usually don't end up indicting cops. As Alex Vitale explained at Al-Jazeera America:

There are major legal, institutional and social impediments to prosecuting police. Thousands of officers are involved in shootings every year, resulting in about 400 deaths annually. However, successful criminal prosecution of a police officer for killing someone in the line of duty, if no corruption is alleged, is extremely rare. Even when officers are convicted, the charges are often minimal. For example, Coleman Brackney, a Bella Vista, Oklahoma, police officer who was convicted of misdemeanor negligent homicide in 2010 after shooting an unarmed teen to death while in custody in his cruiser, went on to rejoin the police and was recently appointed chief of police in Sulphur Springs, Oklahoma.

There are significant structural barriers to successful police indictment or prosecution. For one, investigations are usually conducted by a combination of police detectives and investigators from the prosecutors' office. Prosecutors tend to take a greater role when there is a reason to believe that the shooting might not be justified. However, they must rely on the cooperation of the police to gather necessary evidence, including witness statements from the officer involved and other officers at the scene. In some cases they are the only living witnesses to the event.

Other hurdles include the deference to cops individuals chosen by prosecutors as grand jurors tend to have, and laws that permit law enforcement officials wider latitude in the use of force than "civilians."

And sometimes, even an indictment doesn't help. Another New York City cop, Richard Haste, was indicted on charges of manslaughter by a grand jury for the killing of Ramarley Graham after pursuing him into his grandmother's house over a trivial amount of marijuana.

A judge threw that indictment out—claiming the prosecutor erred by not informing the grand jury that Haste claimed other officers told him Graham was armed. With that information, a second grand jury declined to indict. The officers who allegedly told Haste, wrongly, that Graham was armed weren't charged with their role in Graham's death either. 

Reason is your voice in debates about politics, culture, and ideas. Our annual Webathon is underway and your tax-deductible gift will help us fight against big government, crony capitalism, the drug war, and so much more. For details on giving levels and swag, go here now.

Advertisement

NEXT: Donate to Reason Right This Second, Because Ron Bailey Needs a New Hovercraft!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Sarcasmic,

    You called it. I thought they would and you said they wouldn’t. You were right. My optimism has led me astray once again.

    1. You’ve been around far too long to be optimistic about something like this, John.

    2. I thought for sure he would get indicted as well.

      There absolutely should be outrage over this one. There is no self-defense justification here whatsoever, especially with Eric Garner saying “I can’t breathe” three or four times before he gets killed.

      1. Look, if he had enough breath to say “I can’t breathe” then he was obviously lying. And who knows about lying better than cops, hmmm?

        1. The callous indifference to Garner’s obvious respiratory distress is one of the most disturbing things about that video. I don’t know how someone can watch that and say the cop shouldn’t be indicted.

    3. As I understand it, this was a Staten Island based NYPD officer with a Staten Island jury. Staten Island is a surprisingly insular fucking place, that if you’ve ever been there would surprise you that it is actually technically part of NYC. So unfortunately this doesn’t overly surprise me. It’s disappointing as hell, but not that surprising.

      1. Yeah, Staten Island is its own isolated little world.

      2. Yes it is. It is insular and it hates the rest of NYC.

      3. I’ve lived in NYC for 20 years and I’ve never been there. Fuck, I live one mile from a bridge that goes right there – yet there is no reason to.

        1. OK I lied, I visited a museum there once but it was the Tibetan museum and it could have been in Oregon for all I knew.

          1. There is some place called Goodfellas out there which is always on TV as having the best pizza in America. There also used to be one of the last real tiki bars left in America on Staten Island Jade Island I think. But it closed last year.

    4. I’m going to have to watch the Rockefeller Center tree lighting show tonight to see if any shit gets kicked up over this. It would be a good opportunity for the rabble rousers.

      1. They said on the news this morning that this decision was going to be delayed until Friday for exactly that reason. Oops…

    5. I also thought there’d be an indictment. But, like I said earlier, I won’t be surprised when this one, which deserves outrage, doesn’t generate any.

  2. Well, I’m depressed.

  3. And nothing else happened!

  4. You’re not going to gin up any outrage about this one. That guy was stealing from the government.

    Ad hoc execution was unquestionably called for.

    1. Exactly. The motherfucker was probably getting an Obamacare subsidy, too.

  5. If we’re going to become a horrible dystopian society and allow our officers to summarily execute possible lawbreakers on the street, the least we could do is give them cool weapons and armor like Dredd.

  6. Grand juries, which rely on vigorous prosecutors, usually don’t almost never end up indicting cops.

  7. Ghouliani’s press agent is burning up the phone lines to get Rudy in front of a camera.

    “Those people are lawless by nature. This is why the police need to be ever vigilant, and ready to use lethal force at the first sign of a threat (real or imagined).”

  8. GOOD shoot, er, choke, you bigorati

    hth,

    smooches

    1. Pitch perfect.

    2. Needs more acronyms made up on the spot, but otherwise good.

      1. He just got back from liftin’, he’s too tired for heavy thought right now.

    1. It’s not intentional when liberals act like libertarians. It’s come sort of subconscious morality that comes up within them before they can catch it. As soon as they realize what happened, they’ll erase all of that and put their gestapo uniform back on.

      1. Often times, I think that’s right. This particular guy is fairly consistent on this theme at least. I just think there’s a general inability to put 2+2 together on why these things happen.

      2. TEAM BLUE only has a problem with this because the cops targeted one of their pet minorities.

        1. Yeah, I noticed that I didn’t see any elderly people, women, whites, or dogs in that cartoon, who are all targeted by law enforcement about as much as blacks if you go by the number of stories reported around here.

      3. Please,”progessives” not “liberals”. It can not be argued reasonably that progressives are in any way liberal in any meaningful way.

    2. Looks like shit I’ve seen/heard coming from leftists since just about forever.

      Boilerplate.

      I’m willing to bet that if any real reform of police malfeasance were actually attempted (you know, like kicking the unions to the curb and settlements coming from pension funds) this same fuckwit would be drawing cartoons about the EVUL CORPSERVATIVES DISTROOOOYYYING WURKER SULIDARITEZZZZ!!!!!

  9. The sad thing is, this won’t open any eyes.

    First, to the extent it generates controversy, the white cop killing a black man will allow the race hustlers to highjack it.

    Second, in my experience cop supporters just refuse to acknowledge the idea that maybe cops have too much power, are given too much deference and immunity, and exercise that power in bad ways. They just won’t accept it, period. They cling to the notion that cops are good guys, are out there to protect people against bad guys, have an incredibly hard and dangerous job, etc.

    We’ve had SWAT raids on white mayors. We’ve had grandmothers gunned down. We’ve had grenades thrown into baby’s cribs. None of that has penetrated, so I’m guessing nothing will.

    1. Only when it becomes so pervasive that everyone personally knows someone killed or injured by cops will attitudes change, but by then it will be too late.

    2. Maybe I’m nuts, but I don’t think this one is over by a long shot.

      I’m not sure how any normal person could watch that video and convince themselves that what happened to Garner was in any way justified.

      The Justice Department absolutely should get involved in this situation, and I think they almost certainly will.

      1. Sadly, I can’t agree. It’s over.

      2. Nope. It’s over.

      3. So then, what, the grand jurors weren’t normal persons? What fairer way could you devise? No matter what, it’s going to be people.

        1. No, they weren’t. People with personal ties to law enforcement are SIGNIFICANTLY overrepresented on grand juries.

          1. But they’re still human beings with judgment, aren’t they? And it’s not like they’re all of them, even if significantly over-represented.

            Could the problem be the other way, i.e. that we are the ones who aren’t normal, aren’t representative?

    3. It won’t penetrate until it happens to them, and by then it will be tool late.

    4. You’re exactly right. Unless cop abuse directly affects a person, that person will simply turn the other cheek. As long as the police keep their body count below a critical mass, they’ll retain their critical mass of support.

      1. Not only that, but cops like to target people who can’t afford to defend themselves in court. Who really gives a shit about poor people?

        1. Tony, shreek, etc. You know, the guys that want more government and more laws.

        2. And even people who defend themselves in court don’t hurt the cops. The taxpayer is on the hook for a multi-million dollar settlement, not him.

    5. There will always be people who defend the police no matter what. You can’t use those people as the baseline. This is purely anecdotal, but in my personal life I encounter many more people who distrust the police than I do police cheerleaders.

      1. And they instantly become police cheerleaders as soon as they are within ear shot of a police.

  10. Show me a cop who aids in getting one of their fellows indicted, and I’ll show you a cop who gets crickets when in need of backup.

  11. You low-lifes at Reason are exploiting this to beg for donations…and it just might work, too.

  12. If people weren’t outraged over the baby in the crib, or the pregnant woman, stuff like this isn’t going to move them.

  13. Ah NYC,home of the progs,they pass law after stupid ticky tack laws and people die.

  14. Second, in my experience cop supporters just refuse to acknowledge the idea that maybe cops have too much power, are given too much deference and immunity, and exercise that power in bad ways. They just won’t accept it, period. They cling to the notion that cops are good guys, are out there to protect people against bad guys, have an incredibly hard and dangerous job, etc.

    I suspect a meaningful segment of that law-and-order-boosterism crowd, if offered a theoretical opportunity to croak somebody with an absolute guarantee of no consequences, could provide the name(s) of somebody they’d like to do away with. But they cannot see/admit that cops operate under those rules every goddam day.

    1. Bullshit.

      The law-and-order crowd couldn’t is incapable of providing specific names – all they want to to off whole groups, but their hands are tied and thus have to do it one-by-one, randomly.

      1. Bad grammar, but I think point was clear anyway.

  15. The only way this will ever stop is that something truly horrific will have to happen. And it will. I mean, truly horrific things have already happened, but something will happen at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, and then the shit is really going to hit the fan. Until then, cops will continue to kill without consequences and that will start to occur a lot more frequently now that they’ve lost all fear of being prosecuted. This is why I’m sure they’ll eventually do that one thing that will release a real shit storm. A lot more innocent people will die first.

    1. What will happen is people will just start shooting cops who do these things and don’t get indicted. The cop can’t be on duty and wearing body armor and with other cops all of the time. When the law doesn’t give justice, eventually people take it for themselves. And that is what is going to happen if this doesn’t stop and it looks like it won’t.

    2. I wish I could think of an example in human history that backs you up, but I can’t think of any.

    3. My friends and I used to joke that it would stop once white women were targeted.

      Then that case with the teen in Kentucky happened and well…

  16. What would it take to change things?

    If the general population lined the streets during a police funeral procession and went full Westboro Baptist, booing, cursing Biblically, spitting, throwing rotting garbage and beer bottles at the cops, those cops would never ask themselves, “Why do they hate us?” They would not ask, “What did we do to incite this behavior?”

    They wouldn’t undertake any self-reflection. Cops, as a species, are incapable of such a thing. They’d just bring out the tear gas and water cannons.

    1. What would change things is someone killing this cop and one or two others who walk away after murdering someone. Yes, the cops would have a fainting fit and would and would come down hard on everything in sight. But that wouldn’t bring this guy back to life or make any of them not want to be next.

      It is horrific that it has come to that but it is true. Nothing is going to change until the cops start fearing the consequences of killing someone.

      1. All that would do is prevent certain groups of people from even THINKing of a law enforcement career. That will limit the LEO candidates to morons, psychopaths, and mental defectives.

        So there will be plenty of people lining up for the open jobs.

        1. That will limit the LEO candidates to morons, psychopaths, and mental defectives.

          I am pretty sure that ship sailed when we decided the solution to every problem was “more cops on the streets” and the size of every police force exploded.

  17. OK – Ferguson I thought at least had a little ambiguity so no indictment did not surprise me.

    This one surprises even curmudgeonly, crusty, heard-hearted old me.

    I hope they burn the city to the ground. But they won’t.

    And the police state noose grows a little tighter. Now my stomach hurts…

    1. I’d be fine if city hall or a police station were burnt to the ground. The rest of the city doesn’t need any arson.

      1. The city still needs a police department. And it is not every NY cop who has gotten away with murder.

        1. The city (meaning the citizens) needs a smaller police department. City hall wants a massive PD, as corrupt as it can get.

      2. Yep. Innocent people shouldn’t have to suffer because of this scumbag Pantaleo. Only Pantaleo and the cops who stood there and watched him should have to suffer.

  18. Any one of the other cops on the scene could have saved that guy’s life, but none of them acted. They are all murderers.

  19. If a half dozen men in a group attacked a cop, and one of them killed him, what are the chances the other five would NOT be charged with murder?

    1. Zero. It is called felony murder. The difference is that the other five cops were not committing a crime by being there or arresting the guy. The crime was when the ape strangled him to death.

      You can’t indict them as co-conspirators or under felony murder. The best you could do would be to get them for some kind of criminal dereliction for not stopping their fellow ape from killing him.

  20. I actually had hope for this one. But I guess my nuts just needed punching this afternoon.

  21. How can you say cameras didn’t help? Maybe the video showed the grand jury that they shouldn’t indict.

  22. I guess the question becomes – what, exactly, would it take to get a cop who kills someone “in the line of duty” indicted?

  23. All Levels of Law Enforcement Should Make Policy that Polygraphs for New Hires Expire Every 5yrs. (Including hires for higher ranking positions)

    National Institute of Ethics: Police Code of Silence – Facts Revealed ~ http://t.co/WNrpRE5

    DoD: Random Lie -Detector Tests Increase Personnel Security. (8-6-12) ~ http://t.co/Tr7uafTd ( “the polygraph is the most effective tool for finding information people are trying to hide”

    The good, brave officers with integrity deserve better. And so does the public………………..

    Cameras to help fight Misconduct. Polygraphs to help fight Corruption.

    If officers knew that these tools were in place, maybe they would think twice before breaking the very laws they are sworn to uphold.

    Break the Code. Break the Culture.

    1. Polygraphs are junk and would do absolutely nothing whatsoever to winnow out psychopaths.

  24. The one question NO ONE is asking is WHY are the cops NOT using their tasers? They said it would save lives (yeah, right) and less force??? Never do they even bring it up… This was outright murder and for what reason? Did the big guy talk back and DISOBEY an order? I hope you all know this is a police state/dictatorship. It is very obvious… Police have tanks and “excess” military gear. President signs executive “ORDERS.” An order is something given in the military NOT a republic. Police do not serve any one but the “STATE”. They are no different than the jackbooted thugs in Hitlers army. They push the public and see what happens… when not much is done, they amp it up even more… Their is no reason to for any of this… OUTRAGEOUS and these police are just moved around or given raises… Probably promoted.

  25. This is the case all the energy about Michael Brown should be going towards.

  26. When was the sale of “loosies” as they were known when I was kid in Brooklyn become a capitol offense.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.