The Justice Department is stalling on recommended civil rights charges against the police officer who killed Eric Garner in 2014, The New York Times reported Friday. Federal prosecutors have recommended bringing charges against Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a chokehold while subduing Garner on a sidewalk led to Garner's death and sparked the rallying cry, "I can't breathe."
The prosecutors assert that Pantaleo's actions constituted a clear excessive use of force. But the Justice Department is wary of acting on the recommendation because it fears a case against Pantaleo may be lost at trial, the Times explains, as "juries frequently give great deference to police officers for actions carried out under pressure." Pantaleo has said he was trying to execute a different maneuver to subdue Garner — one that would not have put pressure on Garner's neck, like the chokehold did — but that his posture was adjusted in the struggle as he "feared he would be pushed through a storefront window behind him," per the Times.
The department's decision under Attorney General Jeff Sessions is sure to spark backlash, given Sessions' spotty history with race relations as well as the overall posture of the Trump administration. But both Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder, who served as attorneys general under former President Barack Obama, had reservations about the case as well, the Times notes; while Holder was convinced the evidence supported an indictment for Pantaleo, he conceded that prosecutors might lose at trial, and Lynch vacillated for months as to whether charges were truly warranted at all.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has "convened several meetings" as to whether to approve the charges, the Times reports, which have "revealed divisions within the Justice Department." One source told the Times that Rosenstein would likely eventually decline to pursue the case. Read more at The New York Times. Kimberly Alters