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Eric Garner: What Direction Will the Justice Department Take the Case?

Garner

Two years after Eric Garner, a Staten Island, N.Y., man suffered a fatal chokehold at the hands of police, there’s been a shakeup in the federal probe.

The team of FBI agents and prosecutors investigating the case were replaced earlier this week by Attorney General Loretta Lynch with a staff from the Justice Department, The New York Times reported. The development could reignite the case and possibly result in the criminal charges Garner’s family has long sought against Ofc. Daniel Pantaleo, who administered the chokehold.

Garner, 43, who gasped “I can’t breathe” as police were trying to subdue him while arresting him for selling loose cigarettes in July 2014, became the catalyst for massive protests along with Michael Brown, 18, who died in Ferguson, Mo., the next month, as a result of a police shooting.

A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on charges in Garner’s death. Soon after, then-Attorney General Eric Holder announced a Justice Department civil rights investigation into the case, but the staff consisted of New York based FBI agents and lawyers.

His widow, Esaw told the New York Daily News on Tuesday that she was glad the change took place, but was being cautious about it. “I’m very pleased about it,” she said. “But I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch.”

Garner’s daughter Erica was more confident in the possibility of a criminal case being more aggressively pursued. “I believe the Justice Department had been dragging its feet, but is now finally serious about pursuing justice and bringing charges” against Pantaleo and the other officers who were present.

Although prosecutors in New York are off the case, the Washington team would still have to prove to a grand jury that a crime occurred, but any decision from the federal government could be months away, according to the Times.

Pantaleo has maintained his innocence, saying through his attorney that his actions were not violations of Garner’s civil rights.  “This was always a simple street encounter where Officer Pantaleo utilized his NYPD training to subdue an individual,” the lawyer, Stuart London said.


An earlier version of this story appeared on JETMag.com.

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