NEW YORK (AP) — A white New York City police officer was cleared Wednesday in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes — a case that sparked outrage and drew comparisons to the deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
The decision by the Staten Island grand jury not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo heightened tensions that have simmered in the city since the July 17 death of Eric Garner. In the neighborhood where Garner died, people reacted with angry disbelief and chanted, “I can’t breathe!” and “Hands up — don’t choke!”
His stepfather, Benjamin Carr, urged calm but said the ruling made no sense.
“It’s just a license to kill a black man,” he said, calling the justice system “not worth a damn.”
In his first public comments on the death, Pantaleo said he prays for Garner’s family and hopes they accept his condolences.
“I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” he said in the written statement. “It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner.”
Police union officials and Pantaleo’s lawyer argued that the officer used a takedown move taught by the police department, not a banned maneuver, because Garner was resisting arrest. They said his poor health was the main reason he died.