NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal civil rights prosecutors have recommended charging a white New York City police officer for putting Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, in a fatal choke hold during a 2014 arrest, the New York Times reported on Friday, citing unnamed officials.
But senior officials in the U.S. Justice Department have reservations about accepting the recommendation and indicting the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, because the prosecution may not be able to win the case, the Times reported.
Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, was stopped by police on July 17, 2014, for illegally peddling cigarettes on a sidewalk in New York’s Staten Island borough. Garner argued with police and was tackled by Pantaleo, who brought Garner to the ground with an arm around his neck. Choke holds have long been banned in the New York Police Department.
“I can’t breathe!” Garner repeatedly said in a cellphone video of the arrest that was widely seen. His dying words would become a rallying cry for protesters across the United States under the nascent Black Lives Matter movement, which is critical of racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Garner’s death was ruled a homicide and the city agreed to pay his family $5.9 million to settle a wrongful death claim.
In December 2014, a New York City grand jury voted against charging Pantaleo in Garner’s death, sparking further protests.
Garner’s family has been critical of how much time the federal investigation by the Justice Department has taken.
Pantaleo, who remains at the department on desk duty, could not immediately be reached for comment and the department did not respond to a request for comment.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
The police labour union called the Justice Department’s handling of the case “highly unusual and deeply troubling.”
“It is long past time for the Justice Department’s leadership to put an end to this fishing expedition, close the case without charges, and let Police Officer Pantaleo move forward,” Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement.
Federal prosecutors made their recommendations for charging Pantaleo with civil rights violations in recent weeks, the Times reported, and asked Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to seek an indictment.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions also has been briefed on the recommendations, the Times reported.
The results of an internal police inquiry into Pantaleo’s actions have not been made public while the federal case continues.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Daniel Trotta; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Trott