A grand jury has chosen not to indict the New York Police Department cop accused of choking and killing Eric Garner on Staten Island in July during a controversial incident that was caught on camera.
The decision was first reported by local TV station New York 1 on Wednesday afternoon, following nearly two months of deliberation over potential charges for Officer Daniel Pantaleo. The panel voted a "no-bill" and dismissed all potential charges.
A lawyer for the Garner Family, Jonathon Moore, told the Associated Press he had been notified about the decision.
"I am actually astonished based on the evidence of the video tape, and the medical examiner, that this grand jury at this time wouldn't indict for anything, is really just astonishing," Moore said.
Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan confirmed the reports, saying the grand jury decided there was "no reasonable cause" to indict Pantaleo, Reuters reported. The specific charges being deliberated by the jury were not immediately clear.
Following the decision, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called on residents to react to the decision peacefully.
"Today's outcome is one that many in our city did not want. Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest," the mayor said in a statement. "We trust that those unhappy with today's grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way."
De Blasio will reportedly make his way to Staten Island this afternoon for a press conference. The mayor also canceled a previously scheduled public appearance at the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center on Wednesday evening.
In remarks delivered on Wednesday evening, President Barack Obama addressed the grand jury decision, saying the police's interactions with Gardner speak to "the concern on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way."
Obama explained that in response to last week's grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri not to indict a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teen, the White House has launched a task force to come up with recommendations to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and "minority communities that feel that bias is taking place."
"We are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust and a strengthening of the accountability that exists between our communities and our law enforcement," he said.
According to Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder plans to provide additional comments on the Garner case.
Pantaleo was filmed arresting 43-year-old Garner on July 17 for selling loose cigarettes. The cell phone footage showed what looked like Garner being choked when a bunch of officers pushed him to the ground during the arrest.
The father of six, who was asthmatic, can be heard saying "I can't breathe" several times in the footage, and the city's chief medical examiner confirmed that much on August 1, when he ruled Garner's death a "homicide by chokehold."
Following the incident, police union reps defended the officer and denied the autopsy evidence.
Pat Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA), said that the use of force is "never pretty to watch" but that Garner pretty much had it coming. The police representative said Garner's "tragic" death was a direct result of his attempt to resist arrest.
New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman released a statement today after reports emerged of the decision not to indict Pantaleo.
"The failure of the Staten Island grand jury to file an indictment in the killing of Eric Garner leaves New Yorkers with an inescapable question: How will the NYPD hold the officers involved accountable for his death?" she said. "And what will Commissioner Bratton do to ensure that this is the last tragedy of its kind? Unless the police department aggressively deals with its culture of impunity and trains officers that they must simultaneously protect both safety and individual rights, officers will continue to believe that they can act without consequence."