Eric Garner

No Federal Charges in Eric Garner's Death at Hands of New York Police

Wednesday marks five years since an officer’s deadly chokehold was captured on video.


There will be no federal charges filed against New York Police Department (NYPD) officers responsible for a confrontation with Eric Garner that turned deadly years ago, all over the sale of black market cigarettes.

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Garner, who was captured on video in Staten Island getting choked by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo during an attempt to arrest the man on suspicion that he was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Garner's wheezing of "I can't breathe" became a rallying cry for activism and protests about the way police officers treat black men. His death, a result of an asthma attack, was attributed to Pantaleo's chokehold and the pressure put on the man's body.

So far, no actual punishment has been visited upon Pantaleo or any of the officers involved in Garner's death. Back in 2014, Staten Island's district attorney sent the case to a grand jury, but they declined to indict. At the same time, the Department of Justice began investigating separately to consider whether to bring federal civil rights charges against any of the officers involved.

Today's announcement brings an end to the possibility that there will be any criminal consequences for Pantaleo. The New York Times reports that leaders within the Justice Department were not in agreement over whether to prosecute. Eric Holder, who was attorney general when Garner died, wanted to prosecute. Loretta Lynch, who was the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn (and who would succeed Holder as attorney general), disagreed, though attorneys with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division under Lynch recommended charges.

The case then stalled under President Trump's Department of Justice, and officials eventually ended up believing they would lose the case if they brought charges, according to the Times. Attorney General William Barr reportedly made the final call not to move forward with charges.

In the meantime, New York City itself was using the federal investigation as a reason for dragging its feet about what to do about Pantaleo. Just because he wasn't being charged with a crime didn't mean he couldn't be disciplined or fired for his behavior. But it wasn't until this summer that the NYPD finally got around to an administrative hearing to figure out what, if anything, to do about Pantaleo. That decision has not yet been made, and thanks to New York's secrecy laws around police misconduct, any punishment handed to Pantaleo might not be made public, though it will most certainly be leaked.

In the meantime, showing they've learned absolutely nothing about why black markets exist and why Garner had a history of selling loose cigarettes, the city under Mayor Bill de Blasio has raised cigarette prices further and, starting this year, banned drug stores and markets that have pharmacies from selling tobacco products.

The end result is that more than half of all cigarettes consumed in the Big Apple are likely smuggled into the city. There are a lot of Garners out there on the streets of New York and, if there are no consequences for Pantaleo, citizens should have every reason to fear this will happen again.

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  1. Shocked face…where did I put my shocked face…

    1. It is lying on the floor in front of whatever device you used to watch the democratic primary ‘debates’.

    2. I foolishly booked my shocked face on Malaysian Flight 370.

    3. Exactly. Kelly Thomas said he couldn’t breathe 19 times. Oh, he also cried out for his father multiple times too. And he didn’t die of an asthma attack, but rather from the fists (and flashlights) of the two cops that beat him to death. They didn’t have shit happen to them. Why would we expect something to happen to the cops in this case?

      1. He died of cardiac arrest some 15 to 20 minutes after being arrested. He had asthma, a history of heart disease, was morbidly obese, was so morbidly obese that he had been on disability for over a decade and he had an enlarged heart that was nearly double its normal size. This dude was corpse waiting to happen. And if his stupid fat ass had any sense, he would have known that it might not be a good idea to go right back to illegally selling cigarettes a mere week after being arrested for that exact same offense.

        So, no, the cops didn’t beat him to death. Eric Garner was not choked top death. He died because he’s a fat, lazy, irresponsible piece of shit.

  2. Do say that there isn’t any bipartisan support of things anymore.

  3. More grist for the mill, that will serve to embolden “The Squad” [as if they needed it] and maybe some more tweets from Orange Man to further inflame, distract, and offend. Meanwhile DeBlasio is making the black market even more profitable as if he totally misses the point [of course he does] of the source of the problem.

    At what point does our rhetoric become action and we completely come apart? I not only believe this is possible, but inevitable.

    1. But Jon Stewart told me the police would have harassed and used physical force even if Garner had been out there with a squeegee! That Nanny Bloomber’s hardlined crackdown on illegal cigarette was not at all a factor! Are you telling me that a two-faced comedian that routinely pushes poorly informed outrage routines would lie to me!?

  4. His death, a result of an asthma attack

    The police managed to catch a break for once.

    1. Cigarettes and asthma are a deadly combination.

    2. Technically, he died of cardiac arrest. Interestingly enough, people have complained that the NYPD did not administer CPR, but they did not do so because Garner was still breathing. This is incredibly important because performing CPR can cause serious internal injury and is only used when necessary.

  5. I’m still wondering why it is that you fake libertarian Block Yomommatards completely ignored that police shooting in South Bend.

    Especially considering that a white cop shot a black person, which almost always gets you guys apoplectic and spluttering with rage.

    1. Breaking news: reporter’s don’t have to write a story about whatever topic you deem newsworthy. You should start your own blog about the south bend situation and get a million hits from all the people searching frantically for information related to that incident.

      Or you could just sit here and complain that writers and others become “apoplectic and sputtering with rage” when cops shoot unarmed people.

      1. It’s odd to omit it and there’s nothing wrong with pointing out the gap in coverage. Replying to negative reactions to the press with “why don’t you start a newspaper” is childish.

        1. What’s odd is you knuckleheads thinking there is some conspiracy at Reason to keep negative news coverage away from Pete Buttigieg.

          1. It doesn’t take a conspiracy for an editor to say “eh, we’re not covering that.”

          2. Who the fuck are you kidding, there is no other rational explanation.

        2. According to the Washington Post’s tracker, there have been 487 fatal police shootings so far this year. Reason (and other national publications) hasn’t reported on the vast majority of them. What makes the South Bend police shooting so important that it’s odd to omit it?

          1. Because one happened in a Presidential candidate’s mayoral jurisdiction in a presidential race partially defined by racial tensions and arguments over criminal justice reform?

  6. The case then stalled under President Trump’s Department of Justice…

    Sounds like it stalled under Lynch. The system can’t tolerate that much scrutiny. A trial might pique some public interest into why Garner was targeted in the first place, and the efficacy of those policies.

    1. Never really understood what the “federal civil rights” mean in this context. I assume it’s a criminal action, which I would think would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Based on previous reporting, it appeared that it was mostly the attorneys in the DOJ’s (or perhaps the Southern District of New York’s) civil division that were pushing for the prosecution of the case, but the criminal prosecution division (even under Obama) didn’t think it could be prosecuted as such. That makes it sound like there was reasonable doubt even among the prosecutors.

  7. nobody needed to die and somebody should pay but somebody died and nobody paid wtf.

  8. The lesson to be learnt here is that the next Eric Garner has no alternative but to have a gun and shoot first. Otherwise he will die for nothing, the way Eric did.

    1. The lesson should be if you tax the crap out of something the black market will kick in and cops will end up killing people.

      1. The cops hated Bloomberg’s policy of escalating minor offenses, like illegal cigarette sales. It used to be a civil penalty, with a very small fine, and it was rarely ever enforced. Bloomberg literally made it a cornerstone of his health NY initiative (along with banning large sodas), moving up to a criminal offense that required arresting and booking the perpetrators, removing police from investigating serious crimes.

        The notion that the cops wanted to be doing this kind of low-level work or that they wanted to mess with Garner is a bit of a stretch, especially when you consider that the major factors leading to the confrontation with Garner were because of deliberate policy created by Bloomberg.

  9. Well, I guess we know one crime for which the death penalty exists in NYC: Selling ‘loosies’ while black. It complements the automotive crime of driving while black.

    Sorry guys, but death by chokehold is wrong. Especially when there are multiple officers on the scene.

    1. He died of cardiac arrest some 15 to 20 minutes after leaving the scene. He was being treated for his asthma attack and suffered a heart attack en route to the hospital. He died an hour after arriving.

      As for why Eric Garner was being picked on: that lies squarely at the feet of Bloomberg. Bloomberg moved illegal cigarette sales from a civil penalty (a fine) to a criminal penalty, which requires arrest and booking. It was a part of Bloomberg’s public health initiative that saw such other wonderful ideas as regulating the size of soda fountain drinks.

      I know it’s fun to be dumb and always blame the cops, but I doubt anyone that day relished in the idea of having to confront a 6’5″ 350 lbs morbidly obese idiot who can’t and won’t stop breaking the law. Garner was arrested for selling loose cigarettes, literally, a week prior to the incident where he diced he would rather make the police attack him than own up to being a lazy, pathetic piece of shit.

      Let’s not pretend that selling loose cigarettes is just some convenience for adults: the vast majority of underage cigarette sales in NYC come from people like Garner. And let’s also not pretend like Garner or his neighbors give a flying fuck about not involving kids or selling to kids. The guy who filmed part of the altercation was a known drug dealer that was arrested a few weeks later after police saw him slip a handgun to a 17 year old girl’s waistband as they left a motel. He was arrested shortly after that for selling crack, heroin, oxycodone, alprazolam and marijuana to undercover officers in the park across from Garner was killed.

  10. Except for the fact that there was no “chokehold”.

  11. Looks like the surgeon general’s warning, on the cigarette pack, needs to be updated to include the danger of selling cigarettes because of the second hand tax.

  12. […] Pantaleo for any crimes, and in July, five years later, the Justice Department announced it would not file civil rights charges against him. The city has been dragging its feet in determining what sort of discipline, if any, […]

  13. No mention that he wasn’t selling loosies, he had just broken up a fight. I guess the narrative has been accepted.

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