( 4UMF NEWS ) Justice Dept Presents Evidence To Grand Jury In Eric Garner Case:
Federal prosecutors have begun presenting evidence to a grand jury in the police choking death of Eric Garner to determine if there were violations of the victim’s civil rights, the Daily News has learned.
The prosecution team is comprised of Forrest Christian, a veteran prosecutor in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, along with Taryn Merkl and Nicole Argentieri from the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office, who both have extensive experience in organized crime cases.
Sources said two cops who were present during the violent takedown of Garner by Officer Daniel Pantaleo were called before the grand jury Wednesday.
“They were on the periphery” of the incident, a source said.
Pantaleo applied the chokehold, which is banned by NYPD regulations, after Garner refused to be arrested for selling loose cigarettes. An onlooker recorded the takedown on his cell phone, including Garner’s now-infamous words, “I can’t breathe.”
The grand jury will be charged with determining whether Garner’s civil rights were violated by Pantaleo intentionally using excessive police force.
Pantaleo’s lawyer Stuart London told The News that he had no comment.
The convening of the grand jury is a monumental step in the federal investigation that was launched in December 2014 immediately after a state grand jury declined to prosecute Pantaleo. It is unclear whether Pantaleo will testify before the federal grand jury, but federal prosecutors can use his testimony before the state grand jury.
Christian is considered a rock star in the Justice Department. He received the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service for the successful prosecution of 10 New Orleans police officers convicted of fatally shooting innocent citizens on the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina.
The feds are also using an Army pathologist, Lt. Col. Philip Berran, to review forensic medical evidence in the case, The News previously reported.
Told of the grand jury investigation, Garner’s widow, Esaw, said, “I appreciate the news, but no comment.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who’s been advocating on behalf of Garner’s family, praised the move.
“We had no idea a grand jury was investigating,” he said.
“This is what we called for over the last year and a half, including the big rally we had on the one-year anniversary of Garner’s death in front of Eastern District Court,” Sharpton said.
He called the development “a good sign, possibly. We don’t know what the outcome will be, but it does show they are moving forward. Hopefully justice will be served.”
Pantaleo has been on modified assignment, stripped of his gun and badge, since the July 17, 2014 incident.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has said that an investigation by the the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau has been completed, but the department was not taking any action until the federal probe was done.
NYPD Sgt. Kizzy Adonis was recently hit with disciplinary charges recently for “failure to supervise” at the scene of Garner’s arrest.
Former federal prosecutor Morris Fodeman said that in order to obtain an indictment against Pantaleo for a federal civil rights violation, prosecutors have to show there is probable cause to believe that the officer willfully intended to deprive Mr. Garner of a constitutional right – in this case, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Fodeman cautioned even if a grand jury is hearing evidence, that does not mean that prosecutors will ever seek an indictment. “The grand jury not only charges peoples with crimes, it can properly be used by prosecutors as a tool to investigate possible crimes as well,” he said.