New York, NY – The New York Police Department said it will no longer wait for the Department of Justice to complete its investigation into the 2014 death of Eric Garner, and that it plans to move ahead with an internal investigation in September.
The department announced the decision on Monday, just one day prior to the four-year anniversary of the altercation between Garner and New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the New York Post reported.
Although the department generally waits for federal prosecutors to conclude their investigations into allegations of civil rights violations before opening an internal probe, this matter has gone on far longer than usual, the Charlotte Observer reported.
“Based on our most recent conversations, it has become clear that a definite date by which time a final decision by the U.S. DOJ will be rendered in this matter cannot be predicted,” NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Lawrence Byrne wrote in a letter to DOJ Deputy Chief Paige Fitzgerald.
“The NYPD has come to the conclusion that given the extraordinary passage of time since the incident without a final decision on the US DOJ’s criminal investigation, any further delay in moving ahead with our own disciplinary proceedings can no longer be justified,” the letter read.
The NYPD noted it will open its internal probe into the incident on Sep. 1, unless the DOJ announces it intends to file criminal charges prior to that time, WNYW reported.
On Monday, Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch urged the DOJ to close the investigation into the actions of Officer Pantaleo, who has been on desk duty since the incident, and said the union is confident that the officer will be cleared of any wrongdoing, WCBS reported.
Garner was arrested by NYPD officers on July 17, 2014, after police stopped him for selling individual, untaxed loose cigarettes on a city sidewalk.
He resisted arrest and fought with officers who struggled to take the 350-pound man into custody.
In the process of subduing Garner, video taken by witnesses showed that Officer Pantaleo had his arm around Garner’s neck, and pressed his face against the sidewalk.
Garner repeatedly told officers “I can’t breathe,” a phrase that became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter in the months that followed.
Officer Pantaleo later said he tried to use a “seatbelt maneuver” on Garner, and did not mean to put the much larger man into a choke hold.
Garner lost consciousness on the sidewalk, and died in the hospital an hour later from a medical emergency.
Garner’s autopsy report showed no damage to any area of his neck, and it was determined that he died of a medical emergency induced by officers who were arresting him. The medical examiner declared it was a homicide.
A New York Grand Jury declined to indict on any criminal charges.
The federal inquiry that has dragged on for years has split the Justice Department in half between those who want to go after the officer and those who think success with the case would be impossible, according to The New York Times.
Former prosecutors who have worked on building a case over the past almost four years have complained that the team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who did the initial investigation didn’t believe Officer Pantaleo had done anything wrong, and so didn’t properly investigate, according to The New York Times.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also called on the DOJ to make a decision as the case rapidly approached its fourth anniversary, the New York Daily News reported.
“The family and loved ones of Eric Garner have waited long enough,” said the mayor. “Our city has waited long enough. After almost four years of deliberation … we once again urge the DOJ to show some level of decency to the Garner family.”
In 2015, Garner’s family received $5.9 million from the city to settle their wrongful death claim, the Charlotte Observer reported.