Daniel Pantaleo Staten Island Grand Jury: Why Did It Refuse to Indict Eric Garner’s Killer?
There are significant contradictions between Pantaleo’s account (as described by his lawyer) and what is seen in the video. He appears in the video to remain atop Garner well after Garner, lying face down on the pavement with Pantaleo’s arm wrapped around his neck, pleads that he can’t breathe. Nor did Pantaleo’s arm move off Garner’s neck when they fell to the ground, as Pantaleo claimed. Presumably these contradictions, and other aspects of Pantaleo’s story, would have been sharply probed and impeached by any responsible grand jury prosecutor. Facing the target of the grand jury’s investigation is a perfect opportunity for any prosecutor to grill the target on any and every aspect of his story, to try to demonstrate to the grand jury that the story is not credible. We have done that often. Did the Staten Island prosecutor treat the officer’s self-serving account with kid gloves, with leading and helpful questions? That is what happened in the Ferguson grand jury. It is crucial that we find out what happened in Staten Island. In New York, only the prosecutor can formally seek to ask the court to publish the transcripts. Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan has not done so. Even though grand jury testimony is rarely released to the public, given the public’s access to the videotape of the choking, this is the case that cries out for the disclosure. We encourage the district attorney to publish Pantaleo’s grand jury testimony.
The grand jury has spoken. Now it is up to the Justice Department and the United States Attorney to decide whether to file federal civil rights charges. In making that decision, it seems to us, it will be very important for the Justice Department to examine the vigorousness of the prosecutor’s grand jury presentation. If Pantaleo’s conduct was aggressively and vigorously pursued, should there be a second effort to indict him? If Pantaleo’s account was not challenged, was justice served or was there a miscarriage of justice? The public needs to know more facts than we now have. District Attorney Donovan should apply to the court to release the entire record of what occurred behind closed doors. Only then will he take the first step to possibly quelling the public’s understandable outcry—by helping establish that justice was pursued in good faith.