Civil Liberties

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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