NYC cop in videotaped death: No intent to harm

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Grand Jury Will Not Indict Officer Who Killed Eric Garner

NEW YORK (AP) - A white New York City police officer was cleared Wednesday in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes - a case that sparked outrage and drew comparisons to the deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

The decision by the Staten Island grand jury not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo heightened tensions that have simmered in the city since the July 17 death of Eric Garner. In the neighborhood where Garner died, people reacted with angry disbelief and chanted, "I can't breathe!" and "Hands up - don't choke!"

His stepfather, Benjamin Carr, urged calm but said the ruling made no sense.

"It's just a license to kill a black man," he said, calling the justice system "not worth a damn."

In his first public comments on the death, Pantaleo said he prays for Garner's family and hopes they accept his condolences.

"I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can't protect themselves," he said in the written statement. "It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner."

Police union officials and Pantaleo's lawyer argued that the officer used a takedown move taught by the police department, not a banned maneuver, because Garner was resisting arrest. They said his poor health was the main reason he died.

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said the grand jury found "no reasonable cause" to bring charges. The grand jury could have considered a range of charges, from murder to a lesser offense such as reckless endangerment.

"I am actually astonished based on the evidence of the videotape, and the medical examiner, that this grand jury at this time wouldn't indict for anything," said a lawyer for Garner's family, Jonathan Moore.

Garner's family planned a news conference later in the day with the Rev. Al Sharpton. Mayor Bill de Blasio canceled his planned appearance at the annual Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting to hold a news conference at a Staten Island church while citywide protests started to gather steam.

"Today's outcome is one that many in our city did not want," he said in a statement. "Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through nonviolent protest."

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NYC cop in videotaped death: No intent to harm
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NYPD officers shown arresting Eric Garner in July 2014 in Staten Island.
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: The casket carrying Eric Garner is brought out after his funeral outside the Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes on July 17th. Garner's death has set off a wave of protests in the city and is being viewed as a test for de Blasio and his more liberal approach to policing New York's streets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 19: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a promotion ceremony for New York Police Department officers on December 19, 2014 in New York City. The promotions come on the heels of weeks of protests in New York over the decision of a Staten Island, New York grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Esaw Garner, wife of Eric Garner, is helped off the stage by Rev. Herbert Daughtry, center left, and her daughter Emerald Garner, right, after breaking down during a rally at the National Action Network headquarters for Eric Garner, Saturday, July 19, 2014, in New York. Garner, 43, died Thursday, during an arrest in Staten Island, when a plain-clothes police officer placed him in what appeared be a choke hold while several others brought him to the ground and struggled to place him in handcuffs. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Esaw Garner, wife of Eric Garner, left, cries alongside her daughter Emerald Garner during a rally at the National Action Network headquarters for Eric Garner, Saturday, July 19, 2014, in New York. Garner, 43, died Thursday, during an arrest in Staten Island, when a plain-clothes police officer placed him in what appeared be a choke hold while several others brought him to the ground and struggled to place him in handcuffs. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Fiends of Eric protest after his funeral outside the Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes on July 17th. Garner's death has set off a wave of protests in the city and is being viewed as a test for de Blasio and his more liberal approach to policing New York's streets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: The casket containing the body of Eric Garner is moved from Bethel Baptist Church during his funeral service on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by James Keivom-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: A child holds up a sign outside of the Bethel Baptist Church before the funeral for Eric Garner on July 23, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes on July 17th. Garner's death has set off a wave of protests in the city and is being viewed as a test for de Blasio and his more liberal approach to policing New York's streets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Mourners pay their respects at the funeral service for Eric Garner held at Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Julia Xanthos-POOL/Getty Images)
People gather outside the funeral service for Eric Garner at the Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn July 23, 2014. Eric Garner, 43, died last week as police tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. AFP PHOTO / Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, left, listens as Congresswoman Yvette Clarke speaks during a press conference outside police headquarters on Thursday Aug. 14, 2014 in New York. Members of New York's congressional delegation are asking the Justice Department to formally investigate last month's police custody death of Eric Garner and the law enforcement strategy known as "broken windows." The strategy is based on the idea that fighting smaller crimes like drinking in public discourages more dangerous behavior. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Members of Congress, Yvette Clarke, far left, Hakeem Jeffries, second from left, and Gregory Meeks, center, hold a press conference outside police headquarters on Thursday Aug. 14, 2014 in New York. Members of New York's congressional delegation are asking the Justice Department to formally investigate last month's police custody death of Eric Garner and the law enforcement strategy known as "broken windows." The strategy is based on the idea that fighting smaller crimes like drinking in public discourages more dangerous behavior. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, left, listens as Congressman Hakeem Jeffries speaks during a press conference outside police headquarters on Thursday Aug. 14, 2014 in New York. Members of New York's congressional delegation are asking the Justice Department to formally investigate last month's police custody death of Eric Garner and the law enforcement strategy known as "broken windows." The strategy is based on the idea that fighting smaller crimes like drinking in public discourages more dangerous behavior. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
FILE - In this July 22, 2014 file photo demonstrators march toward New York's 120th Precinct following a vigil demanding justice for Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died while being arrested by New York City police. The shooting of an unarmed black teen by Ferguson, Mo., police over the weekend has drawn comparisons to high-profile racially charged deaths of black men and teens around the country. Garner died following a racially-charged incident that included amateur video, one showing an officer putting the 350-pound asthmatic in a choke hold after he refused to be handcuffed. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
FILE - In this July 19, 2014 file photo Esaw Garner, center, wife of Eric Garner, breaks down in the arms of Rev. Herbert Daughtry and Rev. Rev. Al Sharpton, right, during a rally in New York. The shooting of an unarmed black teen by Ferguson, Mo., police over the weekend has drawn comparisons to high-profile racially charged deaths of black men and teens around the country. Garner died following a racially-charged incident that included amateur video, one showing an officer putting the 350-pound asthmatic in a choke hold after he refused to be handcuffed. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Eric Garner's widow, Esaw, left and mother Gwen Carr, center, listen as Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during a rally, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in New York. Sharpton addressed the medical examiner's report that came Friday saying Garner's death was caused by a chokehold while in police custody, a banned police maneuver. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Gwen Carr, left, mother of Eric Garner, speaks as Rev. Al Sharpton looks on during a rally, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in New York. The rally was held to address the medical examiner's report that came Friday saying Garner's death was caused by a chokehold, a banned police maneuver. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during a rally, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in New York. The rally was held to address the medical examiner's report which came Friday saying that Eric Garner's death was caused by a chokehold, a banned police maneuver. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
A woman listens as Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during a rally at the National Action Network, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in New York. The rally was held to address the medical examiner's report which came Friday saying that Eric Garner's death was caused by a chokehold, a banned police maneuver. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Earline Skates listens during a rally at the National Action Network, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in New York. The rally was held to address the medical examiner's report which came Friday saying that Eric Garner's death was caused by a chokehold, a banned police maneuver. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
A young boy stops as he passes a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. Garner was put in a chokehold while being arrested at the site last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. On Friday, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death to be a homicide caused by a police chokehold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
A hand made sign hangs at a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold while being arrested last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. On Friday, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death to be a homicide caused by a police chokehold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
A passer-by stops to take a photo of a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold while being arrested at the site last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. On Friday, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death to be a homicide caused by a police chokehold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Candles, flowers, stuffed animals and cigarettes lay at a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold while being arrested last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. On Friday, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death to be a homicide caused by a police chokehold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Doug Phaneuf hands a newspaper to a pedestrian while offering information to passers-by about a rally for Eric Garner, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold while being arrested last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. On Friday, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death to be a homicide caused by a police chokehold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 15: A memorial of Michael Brown, 18, next to the one of Eric Garner, is viewed outside of filmmaker's Spike Lee's 40 Acres offices on August 15, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Both men were recently killed by police officers in situations that remain murky and which have set off protests and demonstrations around the country. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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A video shot by an onlooker and widely viewed on the Internet showed the 43-year-old Garner telling a group of police officers to leave him alone as they tried to arrest him. Pantaleo responded by wrapping his arm around Garner's neck in what appeared to be a chokehold, which is banned under NYPD policy.

The heavyset Garner, who had asthma, was heard repeatedly gasping, "I can't breathe!"

A second video surfaced that showed police and paramedics appearing to make no effort to revive Garner while he lay motionless on the ground. He later died at a hospital.

As with 18-year-old Michael Brown's death in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, the Garner case sparked protests, accusations of racist policing and calls for federal prosecutors to intervene. But unlike the Missouri protests, the demonstrations in New York remained mostly peaceful.

After the grand jury decision came down, several dozen demonstrators at the site of the arrest scattered cigarettes on the ground in homage to Garner, and lit candles.

"Cold-blooded murder!" said Jennie Chambers, who works nearby and saw Garner daily. "We saw it on TV, it's on video. The whole world saw it. Ferguson, now us."

Daniel Skelton came from Rahway, New Jersey, after hearing the news.

"I'm tired of the police harassment and killing of innocent African-American men," he said. "You've got a lot of evil police officers hiding behind the good of the badge."

In Times square a crowd of at least 200 people held signs saying, saying "Black lives matter," ''Fellow white people, wake up" and "Once again, no justice."

The case prompted Police Commissioner William Bratton to order officers at the nation's largest police department to undergo retraining on use of force.

The medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide and found that a chokehold contributed to it. A forensic pathologist hired by Garner's family, Dr. Michael Baden, agreed with those findings, saying there was hemorrhaging on Garner's neck indicative of neck compressions.

While details on the grand jurors were not disclosed, Staten Island is the most politically conservative of the city's five boroughs and home to many police and firefighters.

Donovan said he filed a court order to release information on the investigation.

Pantaleo had been stripped of his gun and badge and placed on desk duty while the case was under investigation. Bratton said Pantaleo would be suspended while the NYPD conducts an internal probe that could result in administrative charges.

In anticipation of the announcement on the grand jury decision, police officials met with community leaders on Staten Island to head off a repeat of the response in Ferguson, where a grand jury decided not to indict the white officer who shot the black teen. Demonstrations there resulted in more than 100 arrests and destruction of 12 commercial buildings by fire.

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