Grand jury to take up death linked to New York City police chokehold

Rights advocates draw link to Missouri killing

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NEW YORK — Amid weeks of pro­tests and calls for fed­eral in­ter­ven­tion, the Staten Island dis­trict at­tor­ney an­nounced Tues­day that he would open a grand jury in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the death of an un­armed black man dur­ing an ar­rest last month, a pro­cess that could lead to in­dict­ments of the po­lice of­fi­cers in­volved.

The death of Eric Garner, 43, in­flamed ten­sions be­tween the New York Po­lice Depart­ment and mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, as widely dis­trib­uted cell phone vid­eos of the con­fron­ta­tion showed Mr. Garner strug­gling for breath as an of­fi­cer clung to his neck and back.

Over the past week, civil rights ad­vo­cates drew a link be­tween those im­ages and the fa­tal shoot­ing of an un­armed black teen­ager Aug. 9 in Fer­gu­son, Mo., with some, in­clud­ing the Rev. Al Sharp­ton, shut­tling be­tween the two dis­pa­rate scenes — a largely peace­ful Staten Island and the smoke-filled streets of a com­mu­nity near St. Louis — to press for the pros­e­cu­tion of of­fi­cers in both ep­i­sodes.

In New York, de­mands for crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tions grew louder af­ter the city med­i­cal ex­am­iner ruled Mr. Garner’s death a ho­mi­cide caused by a choke­hold as well as the com­pres­sion of his chest dur­ing the ar­rest. The dis­trict at­tor­ney, Daniel M. Dono­van Jr., cited the au­topsy, as well as an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by his of­fice, in his de­ci­sion to im­panel a grand jury be­gin­ning in Sep­tem­ber.

“I will go wher­ever the ev­i­dence takes me, with­out fear or fa­vor,” Mr. Dono­van said in his state­ment, de­clin­ing to com­ment on de­tails of the grand jury in­quiry or when it might be com­pleted.

Mayor Bill de Bla­sio, who has strug­gled to main­tain a bal­ance be­tween as­suag­ing com­mu­nity out­rage at Mr. Garner’s death and sup­port­ing rank-and-file of­fi­cers doubt­ful of his back­ing, said in a terse state­ment that he was “pleased” with the de­ci­sion, add­ing, “The le­gal pro­cess is now un­der­way.”

Be­fore Mr. Dono­van’s an­nounce­ment, many ad­vo­cates urged fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors to take over the case, ques­tion­ing whether a dis­trict at­tor­ney from Staten Island, the small­est of the city’s five bor­oughs and home to many po­lice of­fi­cers, would zeal­ously pur­sue what could prove to be a dif­fi­cult case against the of­fi­cers.

Six mem­bers of Con­gress asked At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder to open a fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the case, say­ing they saw no in­di­ca­tion that the lo­cal dis­trict at­tor­ney was “pre­pared to ag­gres­sively pros­e­cute the case.” Mr. Sharp­ton, who has also urged fed­eral in­volve­ment and is plan­ning a demon­stra­tion on Staten Island for Satur­day, said Mr. Dono­van’s an­nounce­ment did not dampen his calls for a fed­eral civil rights case.

Mr. Holder, who is set to travel to­day to Mis­souri, has said the Justice Depart­ment is mon­i­tor­ing the Staten Island in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But fed­eral au­thor­i­ties have thus far re­mained on the side­lines of Mr. Garner’s case, in part, for­mer pros­e­cu­tors said, be­cause a state case can be made more com­pli­cated if fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors go first. The stan­dard for prov­ing a fed­eral case can also be tough, re­quir­ing pros­e­cu­tors to pres­ent ev­i­dence that the of­fi­cers in­tended to de­prive Mr. Garner of his civil rights based on his race.

Legal ex­perts and for­mer pros­e­cu­tors said that de­spite the med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s rul­ing that the death was a ho­mi­cide, mur­der charges seemed un­likely be­cause the ep­i­sode that ended with Mr. Garner’s death July 17 be­gan as a rou­tine ar­rest. Of­fi­cers are gen­er­ally given wide lat­i­tude to use force within de­part­ment guide­lines and their pro­fes­sional judg­ment. A lesser ho­mi­cide charge, such as sec­ond-de­gree man­slaugh­ter or crim­i­nally neg­li­gent ho­mi­cide, could be pos­si­ble, le­gal ex­perts said.

But be­fore that, the grand jury must weigh whether there is enough ev­i­dence to go for­ward with a crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion, and if so, against which of the of­fi­cers pres­ent. Mr. Dono­van said in a state­ment that he would not com­ment on any de­tails of the grand jury’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in­clud­ing the na­ture of the charges, wit­nesses and po­ten­tial tar­gets.

United States - North America - New York City - New York - Eric Holder - Missouri - Al Sharpton - Staten Island - Bill de Blasio


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