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No chokehold death charge

After years of silence, federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they won't bring criminal charges against a white New York City police officer in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black man whose dying words — "I can't breathe" — became a national rallying cry against police brutality.

The decision to end a yearslong civil rights investigation without charges was made by Attorney General William Barr and was announced the day before the five-year anniversary of the deadly Staten Island encounter, just as the statute of limitations was set to expire.

Civil rights prosecutors in Washington had favoured filing criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, but ultimately Barr sided with other federal prosecutors based in Brooklyn who said evidence, including a bystander's widely viewed cellphone video, wasn't sufficient to make a case, a Justice Department official told The Associated Press.

Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, said at a news conference that while Garner's death was tragic, there was insufficient evidence to prove that Pantaleo or any other officers involved in the confrontation on a Staten Island sidewalk had wilfully violated his civil rights.

"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 in violation of the law," Donoghue said.

Garner's family was incensed by the decision, the latest from a Justice Department under President Donald Trump that has scaled-back use of consent decrees aimed at improving local police departments found to have violated civil rights.

"This should have been taken care of years ago," said Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, a vocal police reform advocate since her son's death. "This should have been taken care of under the Obama administration. Then we would have had a fairer playing ground."

The Rev. Al Sharpton renewed his calls for the New York Police Department to fire the 34-year-old Pantaleo, who's been on desk duty since Garner's death and is awaiting the results of a disciplinary hearing that could lead to his firing. Mayor Bill de Blasio's office said it expects a decision by Aug. 31.

"Five years ago, Eric Garner was choked to death," Sharpton said. "Today, the federal government choked Lady Justice, and that is why we were outraged."

Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, said the officer "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 followed this case from its inception."

Pantaleo's union president, Pat Lynch, said: "scapegoating a good and honourable officer, who was doing his job in the manner he was taught, will not heal the wounds this case has caused for our entire city."

Garner's death — after he refused to be handcuffed for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes — came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that gave impetus to the national Black Lives Matter movement. Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

When a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on state charges in December 2014, demonstrations flared in New York and several other cities.

Amid those demonstrations, a man angry about the Garner and Brown cases ambushed and fatally shot two New York City police officers as they sat in their cruiser, further shocking the city and leading to the creation of the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement.

Prosecutors in Brooklyn repeatedly watched video of the confrontation between Garner and police, Donoghue said, but weren't convinced Pantaleo wilfully violated the law in using a chokehold, which is banned under police department policy.



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