Eric Garner’s death after the police chokehold

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Dec 08, 2014 Eric Garner’s death after the police chokehold

My younger brother once came home from school around 1979 with a “Fairfield Cops are Tops” button, but no “I love the Bill of Rights” button, because no such buttons entered the school for distribution. Fairfield, Connecticut, then and still now is mostly a sleepy town of under 60,000, with no high-rise buildings and with few big businesses aside from General Electric’s world headquarters, and the much smaller yet ubiquitous Bigelow Tea. Its police force is similarly small. Being small and presumably with a strong budget to match the town’s substantial wealth, Fairfield’s police department has the potential for good quality control in the police it hires and in the way it trains, retrains, monitors and promotes its police officers.

By contrast, Staten Island, New York, has nearly a half million residents, and its police force is the huge New York City police department, which covers the five boroughs’ over eight million residents.

Last July, Eric Garner died after police officer Daniel Pantaleo put him into a chokehold, in Staten Island, when Garner was verbally refusing (without any physical force by Mr. Garner before being choked) to be arrested on an accusation of unlawfully selling single cigarettes. Pantaleo was simultaneously joined by several other police officers to tackle the very heavy and tall Mr. Garner. I posted my views about Mr. Garner’s case last July, a few days after Mr. Garner died. The video (here) of the incident is beyond exasperating and sad, and hopefully will help spur on essential reform in policing in the United States. Even the ever-opinionated Bill O’Reilly agreed  that O’Reilly would have released his grip on Mr. Garner’s neck.

A grand jury on December 3, 2014, declined to indict Mr. Pantaleo. New York magazine reports that the grand jury was asked to indict for manslaughter and criminal homicide, rather than any lesser offense, for instance reckless endangerment. The grand jury declined to indict, because it found no probable cause to believe either enumerated crime had been committed, A grand jury proceeding is not a trial, but instead is the prosecutor’s opportunity — without any defense counsel in the grand jury room, at least not in the jurisdictions where I practice — to ask the grand jury to authorize an indictment, in order to enable the criminal matter to proceed to trial. The grand jury having found no probable cause to indict, the same group clearly would not have convicted officer Pantaleo of the enumerated crimes, seeing that a conviction requires a prosecutor to prove the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. My views on this grand jury proceeding pretty much mimic my recently-posted views on the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Sending prayers to Eric Garner and his family, and insisting that police abuse recede substantially and immediately.

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