Grand jury decision expected this week in NYPD chokehold death case

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NEW YORK — A grand jury is expected to announce this week whether a New York City police officer will face criminal charges in the alleged chokehold death of a New York man, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Eric Garner, a father of six, died after NYPD officers confronted him on Staten Island for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally. A video of the July 17 encounter shows NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo grabbing the 350-pound man in a chokehold and pulling him onto a sidewalk.

During his apprehension, Garner, 43, is heard repeatedly telling the officers that he could not breathe. The New York City Police Department prohibits the chokehold tactic.

The New York City Medical Examiner’s office later ruled Garner’s death a homicide. The cause of death was “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”

After the incident, Pantaleo was put on modified assignment and stripped of his badge and gun while the investigation was under way.

More protests?

The case, which sparked anti-police demonstrations across the city, was brought to a grand jury in September, according to Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan.

On Monday, Staten Island officials met with New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton to discuss the impending decision and the borough’s preparedness for reaction to it.

An attorney for Pantaleo told CNN his client testified for approximately two hours on November 21 in front of the grand jury.

“He was gratified to tell his story, he was relieved,” Stuart London told CNN Saturday.

London believes his client was the last to testify in front of the grand jury, which may signal that the panel may be nearing a decision.

“He was anxious and anxiety-filled prior to that,” London said. “He is cautiously optimistic, and knows that his fate is in their hands now.”

The medical examiner also listed acute and chronic bronchial asthma, obesity and hypertensive cardiovascular disease as contributing factors in Garner’s death.

Decision comes after Ferguson protests

If the decision is announced soon, it would come just a little over a week after a grand jury in St. Louis County decided not to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown.

Bratton announced in September that all NYPD officers will undergo a three-day retraining period on the proper use of force when engaging a suspect.

“It was evident to me and Mayor (Bill) de Blasio… that there was a need for a fundamental shift in the culture of the department, from an overarching focus on police activity… to an emphasis on collaborative problem-solving with the community,” Bratton said before the City Council’s Committee for Public Safety.

Previous legal issues

Two lawsuits have previously been filed against Pantaleo. The plaintiffs in both suits allege false arrest, unlawful imprisonment, civil rights violations and other charges. One suit from 2013 was dismissed in January 2014, while the second, from February 2014, remains open.

Garner had a lengthy criminal history, including more than 30 arrests, and had been arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes in May, police said.