November 22, 2019
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Eric Garner Press Conference


Thank you for coming today. My name is Richard Donoghue and I am the United
States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. I am joined here today by the Special Agent-In-Charge
of the FBI New York’s Criminal Division, Michael Driscoll. We are here to announce that, after an exhaustive
investigation, the Department of Justice has reached the conclusion that insufficient evidence
exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the police officers who arrested Eric
Garner in Staten Island on July 17, 2014 acted in violation of the federal criminal civil
rights statute. Consequently, the investigation into this
incident has been closed. We met with Mr. Garner’s family earlier
this morning and shared our findings and decision with them. I offered my sincere condolences and those
of Attorney General Barr and the entire Justice Department to the family for their tragic
loss. This morning I want to discuss the reasons
for our decision and how we reached it. While the Department does not normally publicly
discuss a decision not to bring charges, we felt that this matter is an exception because
it means so much to our community and beyond. Before I continue, let me say as clearly and
unequivocally as I can that Mr. Garner’s death was a tragedy. For anyone to die under circumstances like
these is a tremendous loss. For the family to suffer as this family has
only compounds that loss. But these unassailable facts are separate
and distinct from whether a federal crime has been committed. And the evidence here does not support charging
Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo or any other officer with a federal criminal civil rights
violation. Admittedly, many may disagree with the decision,
and that is their right. However, we hope that by announcing and explaining
our decision today, we can bring some measure of closure to one of this City’s more upsetting
incidents involving the police and a member of the community. To fully understand how we made this decision,
I want to briefly discuss the applicable law. In order for a federal criminal civil rights
charge to be brought, the government must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, four elements:
(1) that the officer acted under color of law; (2) that the officer used objectively
unreasonable force under the circumstances; (3) that the officer violated the law willfully;
and (4) that the wrongful conduct caused bodily injury to the victim. In simpler terms, this means that the government
must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer willfully used more force than
he reasonably could have believed was necessary under the circumstances. During the Department’s investigation, we
focused primarily on two of these elements: 1) whether the force used was objectively
unreasonable and 2) whether the officer acted willfully in violation of the law. The “reasonableness” of a particular use
of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather
than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. And the law recognizes that the police are
often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain
and rapidly evolving. However, even if the government can prove
beyond a reasonable doubt that the force used was objectively unreasonable, the government
must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer acted willfully. This is the highest standard of intent imposed
by law, and is different and higher than the intent standard under the relevant state statutes. While willfulness may be inferred from blatantly
wrongful conduct, such as a gratuitous kick to the head, an officer’s mistake, fear,
misperception, or even poor judgment does not constitute willful conduct under federal
criminal civil rights law. What all of this means is that, 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 willfully. Eric Garner’s arrest was largely captured
on video and the video has been replayed in the media on countless occasions. Like many of you, I have watched the video
many times and, each time I’ve watched it, I am left with the same reaction – that
the death of Eric Garner was a tragedy. And I know that every one of my colleagues
who reviewed the video shares that sentiment. The job of a federal prosecutor, however,
is not to let our emotions dictate our decisions. Our job is to review the evidence gathered
during the investigation – like the video – to assess whether we can prove that a federal
crime was committed. When viewed in its entirety, the video documents
a tense and escalating encounter between Mr. Garner and the officers, and shows that the
officers had to make split-second decisions under stressful circumstances. The video shows that the officers’ initial
actions were in accordance with established police tactics and procedures, but that the
situation deteriorated as it progressed. At the end of the day, however, the video
and the other evidence gathered in the investigation does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt
that Officer Pantaleo acted in willful violation of federal law. Now let me address the video and some of the
other evidence. On July 17, 2014, Officers Justin D’Amico
and Daniel Pantaleo attempted to place Eric Garner under arrest. The officers were acting that day under direct
orders to address complaints about the sale of untaxed cigarettes in the vicinity of Tompkinsville
Park in Staten Island. Mr. Garner resisted arrest, both verbally
and physically, and consequently the officers were permitted to use force to effect the
arrest. That force, of course, had to be reasonable. After Mr. Garner resisted arrest, Officer
Pantaleo appeared to attempt two approved NYPD tactics, both of which involved force. First, he appeared to attempt an “arm bar,”
which involves pulling the hand of a person down, while the officer goes behind the person
to gain control of him to put handcuffs on him. As the video makes clear, Mr. Garner twisted
his body and freed his arms, evaded Pantaleo’s grasp, and avoided being placed in handcuffs. Officer Pantaleo next appeared to attempt
a second approved tactic, this one called the “rear takedown” or “seat belt.” In this tactic, an officer places one arm
under a person’s armpit and the other hand across the shoulder and chest of the person
in order to unbalance the person and bring him to the ground. Here, Officer Pantaleo placed his right arm
under Mr. Garner’s right armpit and his left arm on Mr. Garner’s shoulder and upper
chest, with his left palm facing out and away from Mr. Garner’s neck. At this point, there is nothing in the video
to suggest that Officer Pantaleo intended or attempted to place Mr. Garner in a chokehold. I would also note that there was a significant
difference in size and weight between Mr. Garner, who stood 6’2” and weighed close
to 400 lbs., and Officer Pantaleo, who was considerably smaller. And it is clear that this disparity in size
and weight contributed to Officer Pantaleo being unable to bring Mr. Garner under arrest
quickly and without further incident. Officer Pantaleo then attempted to complete
the rear takedown to put Mr. Garner off balance. This is where the situation rapidly deteriorated. As Mr. Garner and Officer Pantaleo struggled,
Officer Pantaleo held onto Mr. Garner and both men fell backward. In the process, Officer Pantaleo’s body
slammed against a store window, causing the window to buckle. It appears that, in response to that collision,
and to maintain a hold on Mr. Garner, Officer Pantaleo wrapped his left arm around Mr. Garner’s
neck, resulting in what was, in effect, a chokehold. Officer Pantaleo maintained that hold on Mr.
Garner for a total of approximately seven seconds. During the first few seconds of that hold,
the two men were falling to the sidewalk. As has been widely reported, Mr. Garner stated,
“I can’t breathe,” but I would point out that he made this statement only after
he fell to the sidewalk and after Officer Pantaleo released his grip from Mr. Garner’s
neck. Significantly, Officer Pantaleo was not engaged
in a chokehold on Mr. Garner when he said he could not breathe, and neither Officer
Pantaleo nor any other officer applied a chokehold to Mr. Garner after he first said he could not breathe. It is also important to understand that there
is a disagreement among medical experts regarding the cause of Mr. Garner’s death. While the medical examiner who conducted Mr.
Garner’s autopsy ruled it a homicide – meaning that the death resulted, rightly or wrongly,
from the actions of another – another medical examiner who reviewed the autopsy report could
not conclusively determine whether the chokehold itself caused Mr. Garner’s death. At least two different medical experts have
explained that the sudden cardiac arrest suffered by Mr. Garner could have resulted from a number
of causes in addition to the chokehold, including being restrained in a prone position, damage
to his neck area that was not attributable to the chokehold and Mr. Garner’s serious
underlying medical conditions. This is significant because it casts doubt
upon whether the chokehold itself caused Mr. Garner’s death. When we evaluated Officer Pantaleo’s actions
in light of (1) his training and experience, (2) Mr. Garner’s size, weight and actions
to resist arrest, and (3) the duration and escalating nature of their interaction, we
determined that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pantaleo
acted in willful violation of the law. As a result, we conclude that there is insufficient
evidence to bring a federal criminal charge against Officer Pantaleo for his role in the
untimely death of Mr. Garner. Before I conclude, I also would like to address
the timing of today’s announcement. As I mentioned earlier, this investigation
was extremely thorough and time consuming and the recent administrative hearing conducted
by the NYPD provided, at least potentially, one last opportunity to develop evidence that
might have put us in a position to bring charges. But regardless, today’s announcement is
long overdue. We, the Department, owed it to Mr. Garner’s
family and to the community to complete the investigation and announce our decision earlier. I should emphasize that this was a very difficult
decision, and it was one that was contemplated and considered at the very highest levels
of the Department of Justice for several years. For the family, for the community, and for
the cause of justice, please know that experienced, highly trained federal agents and career prosecutors
worked hard to investigate and examine the facts to determine if a federal criminal case
could be brought here. The Department remains committed to aggressively
investigating allegations of excessive force by police officers and others, and will continue
to dedicate all necessary resources to doing so. We are committed to aggressively prosecuting
excessive force cases whenever there is sufficient evidence to bring them. Mr. Garner’s death was a terrible tragedy. But having thoroughly investigated the surrounding
circumstances, the Department has concluded that the available evidence would not support
federal civil rights charges against any officer. We know and understand that some will be disappointed
by this decision, but it is the conclusion that is compelled by the evidence and the
law. Thank you. I know that there will be questions that were
probably more question. We can handle in this forum. We will take a few of them now. And if there are subsequent questions, please
direct them to our PIO and we’ll do the best we can to answer them. Sir. We would certainly understand that view but
as federal prosecutors there are two things that we have to be satisfied with before we
present a case to the grand jury that is set forth in the Justice Manual which guides the
procedures and policies of the Department and has long done. So first as federal prosecutors, we must actually
be convinced beyond the reason that we can present evidence beyond a reasonable doubt
that the defendant has committed the crimes charged. Second we must be convinced that there is
sufficient and miscible evidence at trial both the gaining conviction and to sustain
it on appeal. Because in this case after the full examination
of the evidence we’ve determined that we as the prosecutors are not convinced that this
particular defendant or potential defendant committed the offense we would not go ahead
and present it to the grand jury under long-established department policies. I’m saying it was a difficult decision and
that’s in part why it took so long certainly, there was a desire by many people who worked
on this case over many years to do everything we could to determine whether charges could
be brought. I would say that obviously the fact that was
on video made this different from some other cases where we don’t had that sort of compelling
evidence up front, but I’m not going to gauge whether it was close or not close I’m just
gonna say that we put a lot of time and effort into this there was a lot of thoughtful discussion
within the Department and this is the conclusion that is driven by the evidence in the law. Did yes we did meet my leadership team and
I met with the Garner family and some of their advisors this morning. It was an uncomfortable meeting because it’s
very difficult. Obviously and they were upset and they had
questions that we tried to answer. I will say as one of their advisers pointed
out in the meeting that the family has consistently called for peaceful protest in the in the
spirit of members of our society who have the best interests of our city at heart. And… and I echo that. We did our best to try to explain why we reached
the decision that we reached. But obviously was a difficult discussion with
the Garner family I did express my condolences the condolences of Attorney General Barr and
the Department and I apologized to them for how long this took because the delay certainly
is regrettable and inappropriate. This should never have taken as long as it
did I don’t think the delay in any way compromised the investigation this is not a situation
where evidence was lost or memories faded people were interviewed immediately after
the incident and more than four dozen witnesses were interviewed law enforcement civilian
expert witnesses and use of force medical examiner’s and others so I don’t think that
we lost evidence by the delay. But the delay was entirely inappropriate and
unacceptable. And as you said, we’ve had a number of changes
US Attorney’s I think there had been probably five AG’s who’ve considered this case Certainly
that was part of it but I do think it was a delay due in part to the fact that people
wanted to be absolutely certain that we had looked at every factor in every aspect of
this case before a decision was made to decline. I’m certainly not going to comment on the
internal deliberations of the Department. I will say that we have over a hundred thousand
employees. And everyone has their role, there was a tremendous
amount of discussion within the Department over years in part because of changing administrations
…tremendous amount of briefing a tremendous amount of discussion. I will say that the end of the day Attorney
General Barr thoroughly considered this case and made a decision himself and that is the
decision of the Department. I understand…I’ll address this and then
I’ll ask that you direct any further questions The PIO will answer the best we can. I know there’s an issue about statute of limitations. So the way this comes into play in this case
is there are questions about exactly how these different factors including, the chokehold
and other things, contributed to Mr. Garner’s death. Because of that and because of the questions
about what exactly caused the death and what combination of factors caused the death we
viewed this as being a case where the government, if it could prove a case at all, could prove
beyond a reasonable doubt, perhaps, that Mr. Gardner suffered serious bodily injury as
a result of the officers action. That charge has a five-year statute of limitations. And that’s why an abundance of caution…we
made sure that it was thoroughly reviewed and the decision was made before that five-year
statute of limitations was triggered. Again Thank you, all you can direct further
questions to the PIO and we’ll address them the best that we can. Thank you for being here today.

Robin Kshlerin

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