No federal charges for NYPD officers in Eric Garner death

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, July 16 (Reuters) - None of the New York police officers whose attempted arrest of Eric Garner in 2014 led to the man's death and fueled the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement will face federal criminal charges, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn said on Tuesday.

Garner's death during an arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes and his gasped final words "I can't breathe," caught on bystander video, played a key role in the rise of the movement decrying excessive use of force by police officers against black men and teens in the United States.

Garner's family immediately blasted the decision in a news conference as a betrayal.

U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue confirmed the decision at a news conference in New York's Brooklyn borough on Tuesday.

A lengthy Department of Justice review of the incident did not reach a conclusive determination of whether Officer Daniel Pantaleo willfully committed misconduct, an "essential element" necessary to bring federal charges," a senior department official told reporters at a briefing in Washington.

"We have to match up what we see" with all the elements of a crime required to be proven under the law, the DOJ official said. "It did not fit within the statute."

U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr made the ultimate call not to bring charges, siding with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, who had not wanted to charge Pantaleo, over the department's civil rights division, which had wanted to bring charges, the official said.

The official confirmed that no New York police officer – not just Pantaleo – will face any charges.

"The DOJ has failed us," Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, adding that she wanted to see Officer Daniel Pantaleo fired.

"Five years ago, my son said 'I can't breathe' 11 times, and today we can't breathe because they let us down."

Wednesday will mark five years since the incident. A New York grand jury in 2014 declined to charge Pantaleo, who has been assigned to desk duty since Garner's death and faced a disciplinary trial in May at New York City Police Department headquarters.

After meeting with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, members of Garner's family joined civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, who decried the decision as "a moral disgrace and judicial malpractice."

Federal prosecutors, who had been looking at possible civil rights violations, decided not to bring charges, according to a source familiar with the decision.

A spokesman for New York's Police Benevolent Association union declined to immediately comment on the news.

The New York City Chief Medical Examiner's office ruled that Garner's death was a homicide induced by "compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police."

Pantaleo's lawyers have argued he did not use a chokehold, but instead used an authorized "seatbelt" hold that slipped as Garner struggled, and that the officer did not cause Garner's death.

Following Pantaleo's disciplinary trial, a departmental judge is due to make her recommendations to New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill, who will then ultimately decide whether to punish Pantaleo. He could lose vacation days or be fired.

The incident, and other high-profile police killings of black men and teens in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, set off a wave of nationwide protests in 2014 and 2015.

Several Democratic contenders for the White House, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, condemned the decisions.

"Years ago, we put our faith in the federal government to act," de Blasio said in a statement. "We won't make that mistake again."

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, a former prosecutor, wrote on Twitter, "This is a miscarriage of justice. ... My heart breaks for the Garner family." (Reporting by Gabriella Borter and Brendan Pierson in New York and David Shepardson in Washington, additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, writing by Scott Malone; editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

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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)
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)
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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