The Justice Department under U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has replaced the New York team of agents and lawyers investigating the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after being held in a chokehold and repeatedly saying, “I Can’t Breathe,” and replaced them, according to The New York Times.
The Times reports that the shake up is “highly unusual” and may put the long-stalled criminal case against the police officer who held him down back on track.
Garner, 43, died in 2014 in Staten Island after two police officers confronted him and accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes. One of the officers, Daniel Pantaleo, was seen on a video using a prohibited chokehold, and the autopsy named his death a homicide.
The case apparently slowed because federal prosecutors from New York and the FBI opposed bringing charges, while prosecutors with the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., argued there was clear evidence to do so.
The Times reports that Attorney General Lynch, who was the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and oversaw the beginning of the federal inquiry before her appointment to Washington, has been considering for months how to proceed. It writes:
In recent weeks, the F.B.I. agents who have been investigating the case were replaced with agents from outside New York, according to five federal officials in New York and Washington. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are no longer assigned to the case. It is not clear whether civil rights prosecutors from Washington will work alone in presenting evidence to a grand jury in Brooklyn and in trying the case if charges are eventually brought.
The Justice Department and the FBI did not comment.
A New York state grand jury declined to bring charges against Pantaleo, but he was stripped of his badge and gun and has remained on desk duty, apparently receiving tens of thousands in overtime.
The Times notes that the changes signal “a difficult road ahead” because Pantaleo’s lawyers can argue that a team of agents and prosecutors believes the case should not be brought.
The Times also reports that former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told colleagues that the Justice Department should bring charges, even if the government loses the case, because it’s the right thing to do.
SOURCE: New York Times | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty