Eric Garner

Some Information from Garner Grand Jury; Cop Needed to Know There Was "Substantial Risk" of Killing Garner


The New York Law Journal reports today about some small bits of info that have been issued regarding the normally-totally-secret grand jury process in the murder of Eric Garner.

While limited, what's revealed hints as to how any sentient human could not have thought there was at least a possible crime worth a real trial involved in Garner's death after being choked and smashed to the ground by a bunch of police officers  for no reason other than not meekly complying to unjust demands:

Acting Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rooney revealed that grand jurors heard from 50 witnesses, weighed 60 exhibits, including four videos, and were instructed on legal principles including an officer's use of physical force….

The Legal Aid Society, which had represented Garner in a number of charged minor offenses prior to his death in July, is filing a motion to unseal the entirety of the grand jury proceedings…..

[Officer Daniel] Pataleo's lawyer and police union officials argued that the grand jury got it right, saying that the officer used an authorized takedown move—not a banned chokehold—against a man who was resisting arrest. And they said Garner's poor health was the main cause of his death.

To find Pantaleo criminally negligent, the grand jury would have had to determine he knew there was a "substantial risk" that Garner would die.

I'm guessing that that point—that the officer must actually have believed or understood that what he was doing was likely to kill Garner—was the sticking point for the grand jury (presuming it wasn't just pure "we aren't going to indict a cop"), though that standard shouldn't excuse people from legal liability for their actions directly causing a death.

This seems especially so when those actions involve physical assault amid direct warnings from the attacked that you are causing them trouble breathing. (And remember victims: try to have the composure as you are dying to say "I am having severe trouble breathing because of what you are doing to me" instead of "I can't breathe.")

A federal investigation is also ongoing, but:

Still, federal civil rights cases against police officers are exceedingly rare.

In the past two decades, only a few such cases have reached trial in New York—most notably the one involving Abner Louima, who was sodomized with a broom handle in a police station in 1997. Several other high-profile cases didn't come together, largely because federal prosecutors must meet a high standard of proof in showing that police deliberately deprived victims of their civil rights through excessive force, said Alan Vinegrad, who handled the Louima case as a federal prosecutor…

But Pantaleo's attorney, Stuart London, expressed confidence on Thursday that his client won't face federal prosecution.

"There's very specific guidelines that are not met in this case," London said. "This is a regular street encounter. It doesn't fall into the parameters."…

The New York Police Department is doing an internal investigation that could lead to administrative charges against Pantaleo, who remains on desk duty…..

The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325—a union comprised of more than 1,000 Legal Aid Society attorneys—said it joined the "cries of outrage, grief and anger" but was not surprised. "As the primary public defender for New Yorkers, we witness daily the outrageous deference shown to police officers by the prosecutors' offices in cases of fabricated evidence, brutality and disregard of our clients' constitutional rights."

Judge Rooney's complete statement about the Garner case grand jury investigation.

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NEXT: Of Course Racism Was a Factor in Eric Garner's Death; Identifying It Isn't a Solution

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  1. If only there was official literature that could have informed Officer Asswipe that chokeholds were likely to cause death!

    1. Even then, I think it would only count if Garner was reading the official literature to him while being choked. Err “headlocked,” I mean.

  2. the grand jury would have had to determine he knew there was a “substantial risk” that Garner would die

    IANAL, but isn’t this something for a trial jury to decide?

    Also, when you put your arm around someone’s neck and squeeze, it’s a choke hold.

    Also, the guy was practically pleading for his life when he was saying that he couldn’t breathe.

    Also, if he was in poor health, shouldn’t a police officer take that into consideration when bringing him down?

    So in summary, fuck this.

    1. Look, he wasn’t any fatter than the average NYPD officer.

    2. I don’t understand this at all. If you’re distracted by your dog in the front seat and you run over a man on the sidewalk, you’d be indicted for negligent homicide almost certainly. Even if you didn’t know that trying to keep your dog from eating your seat cushion was likely to cause anyone’s death.

  3. “The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325?a union comprised of more than 1,000 Legal Aid Society attorneys”

    So when the client wants the file an appeal, the lawyer says “screw you, I’m on break”?

    1. Nothing says “doomed” quite like unionized attorneys.

      Thought maybe I should see what RC Dean says.

  4. I don’t know NY law on this point. There’s still a federal investigation.

    But let’s say you’re arresting some dude who (horrors!) hasn’t paid his taxes. He says that he can’t breathe.

    Do you:

    (a) Give him some breathing space, on the grounds that “hey, me and my two buddies can always grab him if he’s trying to fake us out!”


    (b) Ignore his please and watch as he dies.

    1. Your flowchart is incomplete. There should be a decision box before this for determining the perp’s caste.

    2. (c) Squeeze harder to shut his disobeying ass up.

  5. I’m sorry, saying “I’m minding my own business. Please leave me alone.” is not resisting arrest.

    1. Anything short of meekly obeying is considered resisting.

      1. But they are clearly not shouting the magic words. Not once do you hear: “Stop resisting!” And if prison guards can be trained to shout these words before killing people, it is my firm opinion that any class of person can be trained to do so.

    2. There might have been a furtive movement or two.

  6. Fucking laughable. That is one dumbshit grand jury.

  7. Apparently, only getting “the Giuliani” qualifies as a civil rights violation in NYC.

  8. directly causing a death

    I’ve heard credible argument that the neck hold was not the cause of suffocation — it was not compressing his larynx sufficiently to prevent speech; rather, it was the pressure from knees on the victim’s back which compressed his lungs, and which — perhaps in part because of his asthma — suffocated him. “I can’t breathe” may well have been a report that he could not expand his chest/lungs and thus couldn’t take in air.

    Were the officers applying the knee pressure given immunity?

  9. “To find Pantaleo criminally negligent, the grand jury would have had to determine he knew there was a “substantial risk” that Garner would die.”

    Again, why is it that every time a cop is taken in front of a grand jury, the question is no longer whether there should be a trial…

    The question suddenly morphs into whether the cop was criminally negligent?

    So long as the endorsement of the police union is critical in every District Attorney election in America, there is a fundamental conflict of interest every time a cop is taken in front of a jury by an elected prosecutor.

    The government wouldn’t accept that kind of conflict of interest in a publicly traded company! Having prosecutors, whose offices depend on the endorsement of the police, prosecute cops is like having a CFO audit his own SEC filings.

    You can’t do that! They have to be audited by an independent auditor. Everybody understands that.

    So why do we let elected district attorneys prosecute the cops their jobs depend on?

    There should be an independent office that is not under the control of the District Attorney.

  10. I have a real hard time not passionately hating everyone on that grand jury; including the judge, police union, prosecutor, each and every one of those bastards involved excusing this murder.

    Because I know I and my family would fare even worse at their hands.

  11. Yet if you are participant of a crime (say shoplifting) where the cops kills one of your partners (because he thought you were reaching for a gun) – regardless of the magnitude of the crime, they can and will charge you with murder.

    Complete bullshit.

  12. If there’s some doubt, then it should favor the accused, either in the GJ or at trial. Otherwise, you’re just empowering the state to send more people to jail. Many, many more black people will face indictment than cops if we start changing the rules / standards now.

    I’m guessing that the GJ was told that the chokehold in this incident was not illegal. It might have been a logical move to restrain a guy that size, because there’s no way a cop can wrap his arms around his waist. Again, I’m guessing.

    In that case, then the GJ had to ascertain the whether the cop KNEW about his injuries beforehand. Or if he could reasonably deduce that using even a legal chokehold would put Garner in mortal danger. That’s a bit hard to prove.

    I’m sure they combed over the autopsy report to find any serious physical damage. I’ve read from online comments that Garner did not suffer serious physical damage. If so, then his prior health conditions might become a more prominent cause of death.

    Another question to consider – what’s the police protocol when someone says “I can’t breathe” or “you’re hurting me?” Are they required to step away immediately? Is it common for people to say something like in that situation, and nothing serious comes out of it? The black female officer supervising the arrest said that Garner’s condition did appear to be serious.

    1. did not appear

  13. Now I even have a slight sneaking suspicion that this murder was an act of defiance, a deliberate show of force. Oh, you videoing because the community opposes a police action? We’ll show you: we’ll kill this muthafucka! Get it on video & spread it around, let everybody know not to mess with us, huh.

  14. Will cops have to access your BarryCare file before approaching so that they may know what medical conditions to be on the alert for?

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