A Staten Island grand jury cleared an NYPD cop in the chokehold death of Eric Garner during his caught-on-video arrest for peddling loose cigarettes, the Staten Island district attorney confirmed Wednesday.
The panel voted a “no-bill” and dismissed all potential charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
The blockbuster decision capped weeks of investigation by the special grand jury, which was empaneled in September specifically to review evidence in Garner’s racially charged death.
In a statement released by his union, Pantaleo said: “I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”
“It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” he added.
“My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”
Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said it was clear that Pantaleo had tried “to do nothing more than take Mr. Garner into custody as instructed and that he used the take-down technique that he learned in the academy when Mr. Garner refused.”
“While we are pleased with the grand jury’s decision, there are no winners here today,” Lynch said.
“There was a loss of life that both a family and a police officer will always have to live with. … No police officer starts a shift intending to take another human being’s life and we are all saddened by this tragedy.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio canceled his events for the day — including attending the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting — and headed to Staten Island to meet with elected officials, clergy members and activists.
In a statement, the mayor called Garner’s death “a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure” and which “put a spotlight on police-community relations and civil rights — some of most critical issues our nation faces today.”
De Blasio also said the grand jury’s decision was “one that many in our city did not want,” but cautioned against “violence and disorder” in its wake.
“New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest. We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way,” he said.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called the ruling “a terribly disappointing outcome” that ran counter to “the events that led to Eric Garner’s death.”
“What makes this even more infuriating is the frequent lack of accountability, which is why I urge the US Department of Justice to launch its own investigation,” she added
A lawyer for Garner’s family, Jonathan Moore, told the Associated Press he was “astonished by the decision.”
At the scene of Garner’s death, outside a beauty supply shop on Bay Street, his stepfather railed at the ruling as he paced back and forth.
“It ain’t worth a damn, there are two sets of laws. It’s just a license to kill a black man. Who can control the Police Department? They can shoot me the f- -k down and nobody can say anything,” Benjamin Carr said.
“Imagine if it was your kid? It’s just like getting a knife and stabbing my heart. You might as well choke me.”
As he spoke, a man hurled a garbage can at a nearby TV news truck, prompting Carr to call for peace.
“I don’t want it, and Eric wouldn’t want it,” Carr said.
Carr was later seen entering the building that houses the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office.
In a lengthy statement, DA Dan Donovan said New York law barred him from disclosing any details of what took place during the grand jury’s closed-door proceedings, but said all 23 members had attended every session that took place between Sept. 29 and Wednesday.
Donovan also said he had applied for court permission to “publicly release specific information in connection with this grand jury investigation.”
It was unclear exactly what charges prosecutors asked the grand jury to consider filing, or how the vote went.
Under New York law, an indictment must be agreed upon by at least 12 members of a grand jury, which can have up to 23 members.
Cellphone video of Garner’s July 17 arrest shows Pantaleo wrestling him to the sidewalk on Bay Street, with the white cop’s arms wrapped around the neck of the black suspect.
On the ground, Garner was heard repeatedly yelling “I can’t breathe!” as Pantaleo and other cops held him down and handcuffed him.
The Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Garner’s death a homicide caused by “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”
Police union leaders denied that Pantaleo used a chokehold — which is banned by the NYPD — and blasted the autopsy as part of a “political” witch hunt.
Garner’s family has filed notice it plans to sue the city for $75 million on grounds including wrongful death, pre-death pain and suffering, and civil rights violations.
The family and adviser Rev. Al Sharpton have also repeatedly called on the feds to investigate his death.
In July, US Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department was monitoring the case, and a group including Garner’s mom, widow and Sharpton met in August with Brooklyn US Attorney Loretta Lynch.
She has since been nominated by President Obama to replace Holder.
Source: NY Post