The Slatest

Justice Department Reportedly Replaces Investigators in Eric Garner Chokehold Case

Activists protest after the death of Eric Garner.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

In a highly unusual move, the Justice Department replaced the team investigating the controversial 2014 death of Eric Garner, the 43-year-old black man who was choked to death on camera by police officers. In 2014, a local grand jury refused to indict the NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo most involved Garner’s death. Since then, the DOJ has been putting together a civil rights case with limited success.

From the New York Times:

Federal authorities have been investigating whether officers violated Mr. Garner’s civil rights in his fatal encounter with the police. But the case had been slowed by a dispute because federal prosecutors and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials in New York opposed bringing charges, while prosecutors with the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department in Washington argued there was clear evidence to do so… Another complicating factor, according to three federal officials, is that the disagreement between Washington and New York is reflected in the F.B.I. reports, which often become evidence at trial.

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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.

Garner’s death came in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting death at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri. Garner was accused of illegally selling individual cigarettes on the street corner when officers surrounded him and took him to the ground. The incident was recorded on a camera phone; Garner was on the ground screaming “I can’t breathe” when he was killed. The city of New York agreed to a nearly $6 million settlement with the Garner family last year.

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