NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday the Justice Department is “closely monitoring” New York City’s investigation into the death of a man who was placed in an apparent chokehold by a police officer arresting him on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
Holder, in a statement, called Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island last week a “tragic event” and said Justice Department officials have been in contact with his family.
Holder’s statement came hours after members of Garner’s family, the Rev. Al Sharpton and others met with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn to press for an investigation into the death.
“The civil rights of Eric Garner were violated,” Sharpton said after the closed-door meeting with officials from the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s Office. “That led to his death.”
An amateur video shows a plainclothes police officer placing Garner in what appears to be a chokehold, which is banned under police policy. The 43-year-old Garner can be heard gasping, “I can’t breathe!”
Autopsy results are pending further testing.
The NYPD is investigating the circumstances of Garner’s death, Staten Island prosecutors have launched a criminal probe and several public safety workers involved in the case have been pulled from the street.
Daniel Pantaleo, identified as the officer who wrapped his arm around Garner’s neck, has been stripped of his gun and badge. Another officer has also been placed on desk duty.
Two paramedics and two EMTs have been suspended without pay after the fire department barred them from responding to 911 calls.
Garner’s widow, mother and one of his daughters walked solemnly into the Friday meeting with prosecutors. They held hands with Sharpton. No family members spoke to reporters.
Civil rights lawyers Sanford Rubenstein and Michael Hardy and the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a longtime activist clergyman from Brooklyn, also attended the meeting.
They met with James McGovern, chief of the criminal division for the U.S. Attorney’s Eastern District, and with Taryn Merkl, the division’s chief of civil rights.
Sharpton likened Garner’s death to notorious police brutality cases, such as the 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. He said the video shows police and paramedics indifferent to Garner’s suffering.
“There can be no doubt at some point of 11 cries of ‘I can’t breathe,‘” Sharpton said. “There can be no doubt based on the videotapes that clearly the EMS workers and other police did nothing intentionally to stop the illegal use of a chokehold and there can be no doubt that the chokehold was used with intent.”
Sharpton said Garner’s family is asking to meet with the Staten Island district attorney’s office to “deal with the investigation there.” The family is expected to speak publicly for the first time at a National Action Network rally Saturday.