Holder: Justice Department to open investigation into death of Eric Garner
Makes announcement as protests clog Times Square, Rockefeller tree lighting, West Side Highway
Attorney General Eric Holder announced late Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Justice will conduct a civil rights investigation into the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after being placed in what many alledged was a chokehold by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
A grand jury declined to indict Officer Pantaleo, setting off shock waves across the country when the news broke on Wednesday.
Even as Holder made his announcement, emergency personnel rushed to Times Square, the West Side Highway and the Rockefeller Christmas Tree lighting in Manhattan as thousands gathered for protests.
Holder said the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (Loretta Lynch), the Civil Rights Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been monitoring the investigation as the District Attorney of Staten Island proceeded.
“Now that the local investigation has concluded, I am here to announce that the Justice Department will proceed,” Holder said at the news conference, broadcast live on C-Span.
Holder said that he had already spoken to Garner’s widow, President Barack Obama and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday.
He promised the investigation would be “in depth, thorough, fair and expeditious,” and that DOJ would carry out a “complete review of the material gathered during the investigation.”
“All lives must be valued,” he said, adding that the Garner death was one of several incidents that have “tested citizens’ sense of trust with law enforcement officials.”
“As the brother of a retired police officer, I know in a personal way how police officers put their lives at risk,” Holder said. “The vast majority carry out their duties honorably.”
DOJ seeks “to heal the breakdown of trust we have seen,” he said.
Holder, like de Blasio and other NYC officials on Wednesday, said that protest was the right of all Americans – but asked protesters to refrain from violence.
New York City officials and advocates across the country had called for the probe since the grand jury decision was announced.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said in a statement on Wednesday, “I am confident that Loretta Lynch will conduct a tough but fair investigation into the tragic death of Eric Garner. She is both a consummate professional with a strong commitment to justice, and has a close working relationship with the New York City law enforcement community.”
Even Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had kept a low profile on the case, commented in a statement on Wednesday.
“Eric Garner was a husband, father and member of the New York family. The circumstances surrounding his death were nothing short of tragic. And while there will be people who disagree with today’s grand jury decision, it is important that we respect the legal process and rule of law,” Cuomo said.
He added, “At the same time, the justice system also allows for additional investigations and reviews, and it may be appropriate for the federal government to do so in this case. And if there are improvements to be made and lessons to be learned, we at the state level are ready to act to better the system.”
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