The F.B.I. is now actively monitoring the circumstances surrounding the death of 43-year-old Eric Garner, The Wire has learned. Garner died Thursday after New York City police tried to arrest him for selling individual cigarettes, something that is illegal, but not uncommon.
His death drew national attention when a video of his arrest was widely disseminated, showing police putting Garner into an apparent chokehold, forcing him to the ground, and ignoring cries from Garner that he couldn't breathe.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, N.Y.P.D. commissioner Bill Bratton said that the lead investigative agency at this time is the Staten Island District Attorney. He said that police investigators have spoken to the F.B.I. "to discuss their monitoring of this investigation," and that he would "not be surprised" if they began a civil rights violation case. He said that "consistent policing" was of the utmost importance and refuted the idea that race was a factor in the incident.
Marching w/ family of Eric Garner & NAN Staten Island. Eric died after being being placed in a chokehold by police. pic.twitter.com/OWypHF2V0Y— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) July 19, 2014
The Reverend Al Sharpton and director Spike Lee, two prominent New York City-based Civil Rights activists, were quick to denounce Garner's death. Lee released a video of the arrest edited with clips from his classic 1989 film about race relations in Brooklyn, Do The Right Thing on his YouTube page.
The New York Police Department removed eight-year Officer Daniel Pantaleo's badge and gun shortly after the incident. Pantaleo, who can be seen wrestling Garner to the ground with his arm wrapped around Garner's neck, was also placed on modified assignment until the completion of all investigations.
"Chokeholds are in fact prohibited by the New York City Police Department as they are in most other police departments in the United States because of the concerns of potential deaths arising from them," Bratton said in a press conference on Friday.
Meanwhile, New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates charges against the police department told The Washington Post it received 1,022 chokehold allegations between 2009 and 2013, and had investigated 462 of them.
While the autopsy is pending, authorities believe Garner died of a heart attack.
"My office is working along with the NYPD to do a complete and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Garner’s death,” Richmond County District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr. said in an official statement.
At the time of his death Garner had three misdemeanor charges pending in court.
"Mr. Garner’s three open cases with the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office were abated by death this morning in Staten Island Criminal Court, thus dismissed and sealed," Communication's Director, Douglas C. Auer told The Wire Wednesday.
Garner was arrested on August 22, 2013 for driving without a license and was subsequently charged with aggravated unlicensed vehicle operation, false personation, possession or sale of untaxed cigarettes, and marijuana possession.
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