LatinoJustice PRLDEF Calls on Department of Justice to Investigate the killing of Eric Garner

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 3, 2014

CONTACT: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or jgarcia@latinojustice.org.

In the wake of a New York grand jury failing to indict a police officer in the death of a Staten Island man, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and a coalition of community advocates are urging the U.S. Department of Justice to undertake a full federal civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Eric Garner, and the New York Police Department’s use of force policies.

Eric Garner, an asthmatic 43-year-old father of six, died July 17 after police put him in what officials admitted was an illegal chokehold. The New York City Police Department prohibits the move. The New York City medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide. The cause of death was "compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police."

A Staten Island Special grand jury refused Wednesday to indict the police officer on any of the possible charges faced by Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

A video of the incident shows that Garner did not go after Officer Pantaleo, but had his back to him. Officer Pantaleo jumped Garner, who had his hands raised, from behind, then tackling him to the ground.

"I can't breathe! I can't breathe," Garner cries out in the video. Seconds later, the 350-pound man, lay motionless and unresponsive on the sidewalk. An ambulance carried him away on a stretcher.

“Where is the accountability, respect and courtesy to our communities?, said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “We demand full accountability for all officers directly or indirectly responsible for Mr. Garner’s death, and all officers who brutalize and abuse their power in our communities. Our communities are tired, angry and fed up with the NYPD’s discriminatory “broken windows” policing that results in increasing numbers of Blacks and Latinos being incarcerated in New York City. It is now imperative that a full revision of the NYPD’s use of force policies be undertaken by the Department of Justice. We cannot permit another Eric Garner and another Anthony Baez. Now, more than ever, we need action by the Department of Justice

LatinoJustice and other community allies have also urged Governor Cuomo to veto a new bill that that would effectively give the police unions control over discipline for police wrongdoing. The bill would deposit disciplinary authority over police misconduct in the collective bargaining process instead of where it should lie among elected officials who control public policy, according to a letter LatinoJustice sent to the governor urging a veto of the bill.

The bill would move disciplinary authority over police misconduct into the collective bargaining process, rather than with the appropriate outside independent criminal justice agencies, according to a letter LatinoJustice sent to the governor urging him to veto the bill.

The bill was passed with no advance notice to the public on the final day of the June 2014 legislative session.

“This decision brings into sharp focus why the governor must veto the bill and thereby uphold the principle that police serve the public interest and they must be held accountable for their actions,” Cartagena said. “The bill will restore the notorious 48-hour rule where the Police Benevolent Association attorneys could shield officers from any questioning whenever they discharge their weapons."

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