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N.Y. Prosecutor Opens Grand Jury Probe of Choking Death

Eric Garner Memorial
A growing memorial sits for Eric Garner near where he died on Staten Island, on July 22, 2014 in New York City. Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A New York prosecutor said he will present evidence to a grand jury that will probe the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died last month after police allegedly choked him while trying to arrest him.

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan said in a statement today that the state-court grand jury will convene as early as next month. The panel, whose proceedings will be secret, will weigh whether to indict people involved in the incident, Donovan said.

“After a careful review of the recent findings of the medical examiner regarding the cause and manner of Mr. Garner’s death, I have determined that it is appropriate to present evidence,” he said in the statement.

Donovan’s announcement came the same day that prosecutors in Ferguson, Missouri, said a grand jury there will investigate the shooting death of Michael Brown. The unarmed teenager’s killing on Aug. 9, allegedly by a local police officer, sparked protests and riots in the St. Louis suburb.

Garner, 43, a Staten Island resident, died July 17 after plainclothes officers struggled to restrain and handcuff him while arresting him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes, according to the New York Police Department.

‘Can’t Breathe’

A video of the arrest showed officers applying what appeared to be a chokehold, which is prohibited by department policy, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has said. In the video, Garner can be heard repeating “I can’t breathe” as officers wrestle him to the ground.

The New York medical examiner ruled Garner’s death was a homicide caused by “compression of the neck” and chest, and “prone positioning during physical restraint.” Contributing factors included acute and chronic bronchial asthma, obesity, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, according to the medical examiner.

“New York City deserves an investigation into the Garner case that is fair and complete,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We are pleased that with today’s announcement, the legal process is now under way.”

The announcement comes days before a planned Aug. 23 march by civil rights activist Al Sharpton in Staten Island with Garner’s family. Sharpton this week visited Ferguson to rally with residents and encourage peaceful protests.

‘Thorough Investigation’

Daniel Pantaleo, a New York police officer who in the video appeared to wrap his arm around Garner’s neck, is “looking forward to a full, fair and thorough investigation of this matter through the grand jury process,” his lawyer, Stuart London, said.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement that the organization is “confident that a fair and impartial grand jury” will “see that justice is served.”

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