A grand jury has decided not to charge a white New York City police officer who placed an unarmed black man in a chokehold and killed him.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo put father-of-six Eric Garner, 43, in a chokehold while as he tried to arrest him for illegally selling cigarettes in the borough of Staten Island, a lawyer for the victim’s family said on Wednesday.
Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan confirmed a New York City grand jury found “no reasonable cause to vote an indictment” in the Eric Garner chokehold case.
The verdict comes despite the city's medical examiner ruling that the death was homicide and the New York Police Department’s ban on chokeholds, as they are dangerous.
A medical examiner said police officers killed Garner by compressing his neck and chest. His health problems, including asthma and obesity, were contributing factors.
Meanwhile, the US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would launch an investigation into Garner's death, to probe whether there were any "potential civil rights violations" involved.
While not directly commenting on the case, President Barack Obama said that the decision "speaks to the larger issues" between minorities and police in America.
The President said the decision speaks to "the concern on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way."
Jonathan Moore, an attorney for Garner's family, said he was “astonished” by the result.
“I am actually astonished based on the evidence of the video tape, and the medical examiner, that this grand jury at this time wouldn't indict for anything, is really just astonishing,” he said.
The case prompted Police Commissioner William Bratton to order officers at the largest US police department to undergo retraining on use of force.
But the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the municipal police union, has maintained that the officers acted properly and within the scope of the law.
The grand jury had spent four months considering Garner’s case, and heard Pantaleo testify for two hours in late November, according to his attorney.
A video of the fatal encounter quickly spread online, and sparked debates about how US police officers use force, particularly against members of minority groups.
Garner died the same month that white police officer Darren Wilson shoot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown – an incident which fuelled volatile protests in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere in the US. The decision on Garner’s case also comes just a week and a half after a grand jury in Missouri decided not to indict Wilson.
In an attempt to prevent a repeat of the riots which hit Ferguson last week, police officials met with community leaders in Staten Island.
However, previous demonstrations in New York have remained mostly peaceful.
On Wednesday, a group of protesters rallied against the verdict, and staged a sit-in at the city's Grand Central Station. The event is being called a 'die in' on social media. Others gathered in Time Square.
— Andy Campbell (@AndyBCampbell) December 3, 2014
The National Action Network, the civil rights group founded by the Reverend Al Sharpton, said that Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, and his widow, Esaw Garner, will speak to the media at 7:30 p.m, local time, Wednesday at the group's headquarters in Harlem.
Cynthia Davis, the head of the National Action Network in Staten Island, upon hearing the decision not to indict in the Garner case, said: “Please don't tell me that.” She declined to comment further.
A spokesman for Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan could not be immediately reached for comment.
Mayor Bill de Blasio will hold a news conference at 4:45 p.m. and has cancelled his appearance at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, The New York Times reported.
Additional reporting by AP