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Wave of Protests After Grand Jury Doesn’t Indict Officer in Eric Garner Chokehold Case

A Staten Island grand jury on Wednesday ended the criminal case against a white New York police officer whose chokehold on an unarmed black man led to the man’s death, a decision that drew condemnation from elected officials and touched off a wave of protests.

The fatal encounter in July was captured on videos and seen around the world. But after viewing the footage and hearing from witnesses, including the officer who used the chokehold, the jurors deliberated for less than a day before deciding that there was not enough evidence to go forward with charges against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, 29, in the death of the man, Eric Garner, 43.

Officer Pantaleo, who has been on the force for eight years, appeared before the grand jury on Nov. 21, testifying that he did not intend to choke Mr. Garner, who was being arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. He described the maneuver as a takedown move, adding that he never thought Mr. Garner was in mortal danger.

The decision came barely a week after a grand jury found no criminality in the actions of another white police officer, Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man in Ferguson, Mo.

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PLAY VIDEO|3:41

New York Mourns Eric Garner, Again

New York Mourns Eric Garner, Again

After a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner, his family called for peace, and New Yorkers vented their emotions in the streets.

Video by Adam Freelander, Mac William Bishop, Joshua Davis and Stephen Farrell on Publish DateDecember 4, 2014. Photo by Kirsten Luce for The New York Times.

After the news from Staten Island, a wave of elected officials renewed calls for Justice Department intervention, saying the grand jury’s finding proved that justice could be found only in the federal courts. By the evening, the department announced it would open a civil rights inquiry.

On the streets of the city, from Tompkinsville to Times Square, manyexpressed their outrage with some of the last words Mr. Garner uttered before being wrestled to the ground: “This stops today,” people chanted. “I can’t breathe,” others shouted.

While hundreds of angry but generally peaceful demonstrators took to the streets in Manhattan as well as in Washington and other cities, the police in New York reported relatively few arrests, a stark contrast to the riots that unfolded in Ferguson in the hours after the grand jury decision was announced in the Brown case.

President Obama, speaking in Washington, said the decisions in New York and Missouri highlighted the frustrations that many African-Americans have harbored about a legal system that has a long history of discrimination against black people.

“When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that is a problem,” Mr. Obama said, “and it’s my job as president to help solve it.”

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5 Key Moments in the Death of Eric Garner

The panel’s rationale was not made public, but issues such as whether Mr. Garner was resisting arrest may have been a factor.

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Officer Pantaleo said in statement on Wednesday that he felt “very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” just as he had told the 23 panelists of the grand jury when he testified before them for two hours.

During the proceedings, jurors were shown three videos of the encounter, and in his testimony Officer Pantaleo sought to characterize his actions as a maneuver taught at the Police Academy. He said that while holding onto Mr. Garner, he felt fear that they would crash through a plate glass storefront as they tumbled to the ground, said Stuart London, his lawyer. One of the officer’s arms went around Mr. Garner’s throat, as Mr. Garner repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”

Appearing with the Rev. Al Sharpton in Harlem, Mr. Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, said she did not accept the officer’s apology.

“Hell, no,” Ms. Garner said. “The time for remorse for the death of my husband was when he was yelling to breathe.”

She said that while she mourned, the officer could go home to his family.

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“He’s still feeding his kids,” she said, “and my husband is six feet under and I’m looking for a way to feed my kids now.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking on Staten Island, said that it was a “deeply emotional day” for the Garner family and all New Yorkers, and that he had thought of his own son in considering Mr. Garner’s fate. But he implored demonstrators to voice their outrage peacefully and not engage in the destructive violence that followed protests in Ferguson over Mr. Brown’s death.

“Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through nonviolent protest.”

An autopsy by the city’s medical examiner found that Mr. Garner’s death was a homicide resulting from the chokehold — a maneuver banned by the Police Department in 1993 — and the compression of his chest by police officers.

In early September, the Staten Island district attorney, Daniel M. Donovan Jr., impaneled the grand jury to weigh evidence; it heard testimony from the officers involved and 22 civilian witnesses. All of the officers, with the exception of Officer Pantaleo, were granted immunity.

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Video From Eric Garner’s Arrest

Video From Eric Garner’s Arrest

A New York police officer used a chokehold on Eric Garner, who died while being put under arrest.

Video by Taisha Allen on Publish DateJuly 20, 2014.

The encounter exposed apparent lapses in police tactics and raised questions about the aggressive policing of minor offenses in a time of historically low crime. The officers involved, part of a plainclothes unit, suspected Mr. Garner of selling cigarettes on the street near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, a complaint voiced by local business owners.

Mr. Garner’s death hastened an effort to retrain all the department’s patrol officers and brought scrutiny on how officers who violate its rules are disciplined. Officer Pantaleo has been stripped of his gun and badge during the investigation.

Now, Mr. de Blasio said, the grand jury decision had accelerated the need for that overhaul. Earlier on Wednesday, the mayor announced the start of a pilot program to equip officers with body cameras to record encounters on patrol.

But how useful such technology will prove to be in settling disputes over police actions remains an open question. Mr. Garner’s relatives had believed for months that a widely circulated cellphone video of the violent arrest that caused his death would be enough to convince grand jurors that the case merited a criminal trial.

Jonathan C. Moore, a lawyer for the Garner family, said “We’re astounded by the outcome of the grand jury process.”

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Graphic: Fatal Police Encounters in New York City

In a statement, Mr. Donovan said investigators also spoke with the emergency responders who provided medical treatment both at the scene and at the hospital, and expert witnesses in the area of forensic pathology as well as the procedures and training of police officers. He said that he was constrained by law from discussing details of their findings, but that he had petitioned the court for “authorization to publicly release specific information in connection with this grand jury investigation.”

He expressed his condolences to the family and said his office conducted a thorough investigation that “spanned four months.”

“I assured the public that I was committed to a fair, thorough, and responsible investigation into Mr. Garner’s death,” he said.

Grand juries determine whether enough evidence exists for a case to go forward to a criminal trial, either before a jury or a judge. By law, they operate in secret and hear only evidence presented by prosecutors, who also instruct the grand jurors on the law. Defense lawyers are barred from speaking. For a decision, 12 jurors who have heard all of the evidence must agree.

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While the exact makeup of the grand jury was unclear, Mr. London said it was roughly half white, with the other half evenly divided among blacks and Hispanics.

With the criminal phase over, Officer Pantaleo’s fate moves into the realm of Police Department discipline. It is far from clear if he will return to enforcement duties, and Commissioner William J. Bratton said he would remain on suspension pending an internal investigation.

Even before Mr. Garner’s death, Mr. Bratton had been tasked by the mayor with repairing the fissures between the police and the communities they serve, moving away from street stops and minor marijuana arrests. Those changes, however, have yet to quell the anger that deaths such as Mr. Garner’s bring forth.

OUTRAGE IN THE AFTERMATH OF ERIC GARNER’S DEATH

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Monday, July 21, 2014

While the investigation continues into the death of the man who appeared to be held in a chokehold as police attempted to arrest him last week, more outrage is being expressed by Eric Garner’s family and by those who witnessed the events that day.

The mother of Garner’s youngest child, who is just 3 months old, says she can’t bear to watch the videos of the incident.

“It’s murder. It’s murder,” Jewel Miller said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today told reporters that – as a layman – he thought a chokehold had been employed by a cop during a controversial caught-on-camera incident on Staten Island on Thursday.

“As an individual who’s not expert in law enforcement, it looked like a chokehold to me. But I also emphasize you have a full investigation because all sides need to be heard and all evidence has to be looked at,” de Blasio told reporters trailing him on vacation in Italy. Audio was provided to reporters in New York by the mayor’s office.

The mayor left on Saturday night, after postponing his departure for a day to deal with the developing firestorm over the death Thursday of Eric Garner, 43. Cops were in the process of busting Garner on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes – called “loosies” – when one came up behind Garner and reached around his neck.

The cop who put his arm around Garner’s neck has been stripped of his shield and gun pending the outcome of probes by the DA and Internal Affairs. Another cop has been reassigned to desk duty but still has his gun and badge. Four EMS workers who responded have also been put on restricted duty while their work is scrutinized.

Garner, an asthmatic, was pronounced dead an hour after his arrest. Authorities said he died of a heart attack, but autopsy results have yet to be released.

“The ambulance was right down the block, but the police said ‘not yet,'” explained Giordio Dano.

Dano just happens to be a registered nurse and was down the block Thursday afternoon when he spotted a commotion on the Staten Island sidewalk.

After a second video surfaced showing Garner’s lifeless body on the ground unaided for several minutes, 4 emergency workers employed by Richmond University Medical Center were also disciplined amid questions about their lack of medical response. It’s not until a few minutes into the second video that a female technician finally takes Garner’s pulse and tells him they’re going to get help.

Dano says he can’t believe what he saw.

“I would have flipped him over, checked his pulse and performed CPR, and get the ambulance here right away,” he said.

The woman who shot the seven minute long video also expressed frustration.

“He was on the ground for a good ten minutes, no response whatsoever. When they put him in the gurney and put him to the side, EMS was stopped right there because they were trying to work on him,” said Taisha Allen.

Witnesses say they pleaded with EMS workers to do more than check Garner’s vital signs.

“We even screamed at them and told them, why are they concerned with putting him in the ambulance when they can do CPR right then and there,” said witness Ramsey Orta. Orta recorded recorded Garner’s arrest and takedown on his cellphone.

Several minutes had gone by before he says Garner was taken away on a gurney.

Previously, the NYPD took the gun and badge away from the officer who placed 43-year old Garner in the apparent chokehold. That Officer Daniel Pantaleo, an 8-year veteran, has been placed on “modified assignment,” pending the outcome of the dual probes by the district attorney and Internal Affairs.

Garner was confronted by police trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk, authorities said. The 6-foot-3, 350-pound Garner became irate, denying the charges and refusing to be handcuffed. A partial video of the encounter obtained by the New York Daily News shows one officer wrap his arm around Garner’s neck as he is taken to the ground.

Asked about the ongoing probe and controversy de Blasio left behind in New York, the mayor said: “There’s an internal process and I respect that process. The fact is that Commissioner (Bill) Bratton acted, having looked at the facts. It’s quite clear the chokehold has been prohibited for decades, but I leave the specific actions within the police department to Commissioner Bratton. I have absolute faith in his judgment. I think the actions that have been taken show that there is a serious commitment to a full investigation.”

Meanwhile, a group of demonstrators, known as “New Yorkers Against Bratton,” held a small protest Monday outside City Hall to call for the resignation of the police commissioner over the death of Garner.

In the video obtained by the Daily News, Garner, who has been arrested for selling illegal cigarettes numerous times in recent years, says he hasn’t done anything wrong.

“Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today,” Garner shouts. “I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone.”

As four officers bring him down, Garner is heard gasping, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” The video shows one officer using his hands to push Garner’s face into the sidewalk.

Garner’s family, along with Sharpton and his National Action Network, claim Garner repeatedly said he could not breathe while officers used excessive force to hold him down. Then he fell unconscious. Garner went into cardiac arrest and was transported by EMS to Richmond University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

A funeral for Garner, who went by the nickname Big E, will be held Wednesday at the Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn. Another rally on Staten Island is planned for Saturday afternoon.

A makeshift memorial has been set up at the spot in Tompkinsville where Garner was confronted by police.

(Some information from the Associated Press.)

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