Source: Federal grand jury hearing evidence in NYC police killing of Eric Garner

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NYPD Charges Officer Who Was Present at Eric Garner's Chokehold Death


NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal grand jury in New York has begun hearing evidence in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man whose chokehold death at the hands of a white police officer sparked widespread protests, a source familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

The U.S. Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation of Garner's death in December 2014, after a grand jury in the borough of Staten Island declined to bring criminal charges against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo.

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The decision led to rallies across the city, adding to nationwide tensions over the treatment of minorities by police.

The person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation, said several police officers have been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury.

The grand jury proceeding was first reported by The Daily News on Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn declined to comment.

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Source: Federal grand jury hearing evidence in NYC police killing of Eric Garner
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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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Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, said he understood a grand jury had been convened but had not yet heard from the Justice Department.

"We'll let the federal investigation take its course," he said. He has previously said Pantaleo was doing his job and did not violate Garner's rights.

Police questioned Garner on a Staten Island sidewalk on July 17, 2014, for allegedly selling loose cigarettes illegally.

The confrontation turned physical and a cellphone video captured the last moments of Garner's life, when he repeatedly said "I can't breathe" as Pantaleo held him in a chokehold.

Those words became a rallying cry for protesters across the United States.

Chokeholds have long been banned by New York City Police Department regulations.

The city agreed to pay Garner's family $5.9 million last July to settle a wrongful death claim.

Jonathan Moore, a lawyer for the family, said he was aware of reports that a grand jury had begun reviewing evidence in the case but could not confirm them.

"The Department of Justice has told us all along that they're taking the matter very seriously," he said. "We're hopeful that they'll do the right thing."

The department's internal probe of Pantaleo's actions has been on hold as federal prosecutors pursue their investigation.

Last month, the department said Sergeant Kizzy Adonis, who was supervising officers at the scene, was served with disciplinary charges in connection with the incident and placed on modified duty.

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