Eric Garner: No federal charges in US 'I can't breathe' death

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Media caption,

Eric Garner's mother: 'Today we can't breathe because they have let us down'.

The US Department of Justice has said it will not bring federal charges against a New York City police officer in the 2014 death of Eric Garner.

Garner, a 43-year-old African American, was detained for allegedly selling loose cigarettes and died after being placed in a chokehold by the officer.

A civil rights investigation was launched in 2014 after a grand jury declined to indict on criminal charges.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo was "gratified" by the outcome, his lawyer said.

Prosecutors say there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.

The decision comes one day before the statute of limitations was set to expire - on the fifth anniversary of the interaction with police that led to Garner's death.

"The evidence here does not support Officer Daniel Pantaleo or any other officer with a federal civil rights violation," said the US attorney for eastern New York, Richard Donoghue.

"Even if we could prove that Officer Pantaleo's hold of Mr Garner constituted unreasonable force, we would still have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Pantaleo acted wilfully in violation of the law."

Media caption,

Footage of the arrest sparked national outrage - Nick Bryant reports

In a news conference following the announcement, Garner's family members called on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to fire Mr Pantaleo, who remains on the police force. He has been suspended with pay.

In June, the police department held a disciplinary trial to determine if Mr Pantaleo should be punished in for using what appeared to be a chokehold on Garner - which the department had banned more than two decades before.

The judge has yet to send a recommendation to the police commissioner, who will make the final decision about whether to discipline or fire Mr Pantaleo.

Stuart London, Mr Pantaleo's attorney, told US media in a statement: "Officer Pantaleo is gratified that the Justice Department took the time to carefully review the actual evidence in this case rather than the lies and inaccuracies which have followed this case since its inception."

He said loss of life "is always a tragedy", while noting Mr Pantaleo "utilised NYPD approved techniques to make the arrest".

Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, said on Tuesday that the justice department had "failed".

"Five years ago, my son said "I can't breathe" 11 times. Today, we can't breathe."

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Garner, an asthmatic, is heard on video of the encounter filmed by a bystander crying out, "I can't breathe" as a number of officers restrained him on a street in New York.

His words became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter protesters and other police reform activists.

Image source, TIMOTHY A. CLARY/Getty Images
Image caption,
Garner's daughter and mother respond to the announcement at a news conference

Standing with Ms Carr, civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton, added: "Five years ago, Eric Garner was choked to death. Today the federal government choked Lady Justice, and that is why we are outraged."

Echoing the comments of Garner's family, Mr de Blasio said in a statement that the justice department had failed the city.

"Years ago, we put our faith in the federal government to act. We won't make that mistake again," he said.

The mayor, who is running for the 2020 Democratic nomination, added that the city "is not the same" as it was at the time of Garner's death.

Image source, Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Image caption,
A memorial for Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, after his death in 2014

"We are a different city, and we must act like a different city," he said, noting that crime in New York has reached "record lows".

Officials told US media that the final decision not to bring charges was made by Attorney General William Barr.

A justice department official said that prosecutors watched the video of Garner's confrontation with police "countless" times, but were unconvinced that Officer Pantaleo wilfully used excessive force in Garner's death, US media reports.