The four NYPD officers who arrested Eric Garner, an unarmed African American man, in Staten Island on July 17, 2014 were under investigation by the federal government and the local district attorney for possible civil rights violations after a grand jury decided not to indict them in connection with Garner’s death, a New York City justice department official said on Tuesday.
The four cops, Sgt. Daniel Pantaleo, and Officers Shaun Landau, Andrew Guevara and Justin Brannan, were “intimidated” and “overwhelmingly aggressive” when they applied stop, question and frisk tactics to an unarmed man who had committed no crime, and used excessive force that amounted to homicide, a prosecutor from the office of US attorney Preet Bharara said in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday.
A federal judge on Tuesday declined to extend an order to allow for a new grand jury to consider whether the four police officers should be criminally prosecuted, although the same federal judge found probable cause that the officers violated Garner’s civil rights.
“Given the evidence and this court’s recent findings regarding the fact pattern and lawfulness of the police officers’ use of force, this court finds it very difficult to find that no civil rights violations occurred,” US district judge William H. Pauley III wrote in his order denying a new grand jury’s request to be allowed to hear evidence.
The judge also noted in his order that he “strenuously” disagreed with the decision of a grand jury in the Staten Island district attorney’s office in October 2014 to decline to indict the officers in Garner’s death, which led to protests all over the city.
US attorney Preet Bharara said he expected criminal charges to be brought as a result of the criminal investigation.
Pauley had instructed federal prosecutors to investigate the circumstances leading up to Garner’s death and why a grand jury declined to indict the officers. The order applies only to the criminal investigation, not civil lawsuits arising from Garner’s death.
Pauley had found that the Garner family had not presented sufficient evidence that the officers who arrested Garner used excessive force in connection with the incident, but he did rule that Garner’s civil rights had been violated because the officers’ actions were so excessive that they amounted to criminal conduct.
“Instead of arresting Mr Garner, all four officers patrolled the public area searching on foot for a weapon and had no legal basis to take Mr Garner into custody in the first place,” Pauley wrote in October.
Garner was stopped on July 17 for selling loose cigarettes. He had repeatedly refused to be handcuffed and placed in the back of a police van. After he was placed into the van, he started to say that he didn’t want to go to jail, the officers told the grand jury. During the van ride, he said that he could not breathe. That’s when Pantaleo, the officer who put Garner in the chokehold, who then ultimately seized Garner, and all three other officers piled on top of him and pulled him to the ground.