In the case, Pantaleo denied using a chokehold, which is forbidden by New York Police Department policy. A New York City medical examiner ruled Garner’s cause of death was an asthma attack brought on by a chokehold.
During a news conference, Richard Donoghue, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said there was insufficient evidence to charge Pantaleo with a crime.
"Let me say as clear and unequivocally as I can that Mr. Garner's death was a tragedy," Donoghue said. "But these unassailable facts are separate and distinct from whether federal crime has been committed. And the evidence here does not support charging police Officer Daniel Pantaleo with a federal criminal civil rights violation."
Donoghue said top Justice Department officials, including Attorney General William Barr, also agreed federal prosecutors did not have enough evidence to indict Pantaleo.
"The law recognizes that police are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving," Donoghue said.
Donoghue also acknowledged the viral video in which Eric Garner said, “I can’t breathe,” 11 times before he fell unresponsive.
“Like many of you, I have watched that video many times, and each time I’ve watched it, I’m left with the same reaction: that the death of Eric Garner was a tragedy," Donoghue said.
"The video and the other evidence gathered in the investigation does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Pantaleo acted willfully in violation of federal law,” Donoghue later added.
After the decision was read, Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, vowed to continue fighting to have Pantaleo fired.
"Five years ago, my son said, ‘I can’t breathe,’ 11 times, and today, we can’t breathe because they have let us down,” Carr said at a press conference immediately after the decision was announced.
"We're not going away," Carr said. "You think it's swept under the rug? No! It's not going to be swept under the rug. Because I'm out here. You all know my face. You're going to see it even more now.”
After the killing, Pantaleo was placed on desk duty, where he has remained pending the results of his separate disciplinary hearing. Police Commissioner James O’Neill will have the final say on whether Pantaleo is fired or otherwise disciplined and has said he will base that decision on the verdict in the hearing.
“We’re asking the commissioner to make the right decision. That officer, Officer Pantaleo, and all the officers who was involved in my son’s death that day, need to be off the force,” Carr said.
Carr also demanded Mayor Bill De Blasio step in and remove Pantaleo from the force.
In a statement, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said: "With the fifth anniversary of the tragic death of Eric Garner less than 24 hours away, federal law enforcement agencies have just announced they will not pursue charges against Officer Pantaleo. Years ago, we put our faith in the federal government to act. We won't make that mistake again."
In her address to the public, Carr vowed to take on the DOJ and not stop fighting until her late son receives justice.
“You killed my son and you won’t get away with it,” she added. “I stood quietly by for five years; I’m not being quiet anymore.”
In 2015, Garner’s family was awarded a $5.9 million settlement by the city of New York. Two years later, Garner’s daughter Erica died from a heart attack. The 27-year-old was an impassioned Black Lives Matter activist and spearheaded the fight for justice.
On Wednesday, Carr sat down with BET's "Black Coffee" and detailed how the case has brought her closer to other mothers who lost their sons and what action she thinks needs to be taken around the country.
(Photo: IMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
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