The U.S. Department of Justice will launch a civil-rights investigation into a New York man’s police-involved death by apparent chokehold after a grand jury declined to indict the officer, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday evening.
Holder made televised remarks from a lectern in Washington, D.C., as protestors began to gather and march at several locations around New York City in response to the grand jury’s decision in the case of Eric Garner. Federal prosecutors would conduct a “independent, thorough, fair and expeditious investigation” into Garner’s death, Holder said, after acknowledging he informed Garner’s widow that the Justice Department would launch the inquiry. “His death was a great tragedy,” he added. “All lives must be valued, all lives.”
A city medical examiner had previously ruled Garner’s death a homicide caused by “compression of the neck (chokehold)” and chest compressions he incurred while being subdued by police on July 17. Officers on Staten Island accused Garner of selling untaxed cigarettes and had attempted to arrest him, which he protested. Footage of the altercation, shot by a friend, shows a group of policemen forcing Garner to the ground as one of them, officer Daniel Panteleo, appears to put Garner in a chokehold, which is banned by the city’s police department.
Holder appealed for calm Wednesday as protestors gathered in New York and Washington in response to the announcement. The news came about a week after a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., decided not to indict white officer Darren Wilson in the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. The Justice Department is also investigating that case.
The Attorney General also began a series of conversations in communities across the country between police officers and minorities to improve relations between the two groups. Holder said such conversations would proceed “as we seek to form trust and foster understanding.”