Judge allows release of limited grand jury material in Eric Garner case

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Rob Nelson reports from the Staten Island neighborhood where Eric Garner died. (WABC)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said a "long string of events" involving the deaths of black men at the hands of police, not just the Eric Garner case in New York City, threaten to erode the belief many Americans have in the nation's criminal justice system.

Cuomo, speaking on NBC's "Today" on Friday, said the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and similar previous cases in New York City show that it's necessary to "pull back the lens to understand it's not just about Eric Garner."

The governor said if people don't feel they're fairly represented by the justice system, "you have a fundamental problem."

Tensions already were high after a grand jury last week cleared an officer in the shooting death of 18-year-old Brown. Then on Wednesday came the decision that Officer Daniel Pantaleo would not be indicted in the chokehold death of Garner. In both cases the officers were white and the victims were black.

New York demonstrators targeted the city's major traffic arteries again on Thursday. They gathered near the Holland Tunnel, the Manhattan Bridge and on the Westside Highway, temporarily shutting them down. One group converged on the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio - blasted by police union leaders who accused him of not supporting his officers - outlined previously announced plans to teach officers how to communicate better with people on the street.

President Barack Obama also weighed in, saying one of the chief issues at stake is "making sure that people have confidence that police and law enforcement and prosecutors are serving everybody equally."

But U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told The Associated Press: "The black community is not right to be upset about the ruling. If this were a white person it would have been the same thing."

A judge on Thursday granted Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan's request to allow the release of limited grand jury material in the Eric Garner case.

The information released does not include any evidence presented, only the following:

--Jurors sat for nine weeks
--Testimony was heard from 50 witnesses
--Those witnesses included 22 civilians and 28 cops, EMTs or doctors
--There were 60 exhibits, including videos, records and photos
--The grand jury was instructed in law regarding physical use of force

Only the information Donovan asked for permission to release is contained in the report. The request "does not seek the release of transcripts of grand jury testimony or exhibits."

Read the full release here

Protesters came out in the thousands following Wednesday's grand jury decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Garner, an unarmed black man who died after being put in a police chokehold as New York City officers tried to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes.

Hundreds of New Yorkers likened the case to the deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Mo.

CLICK HERE for more on the protests

Donovan said the grand jury found "no reasonable cause" to bring charges, but he gave no details on how the panel arrived at its decision. The grand jury could have considered a range of charges, from reckless endangerment to murder.

In order to find Pantaleo criminally negligent, the grand jury would have had to determine Pantaleo knew there was a "substantial risk" that Garner would have died. Pataleo's lawyer and union officials argued that the grand jury got it right, saying he used an authorized takedown move - not a banned chokehold - and that Garner's poor health was the main cause of his death.

Attorney Eric Holder said Wednesday that federal prosecutors will conduct their own investigation into the death of Eric Garner over the summer.

Pantaleo expressed condolences after the ruling.

"I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can't protect themselves," he said. "It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss."

At a news conference with the Rev. Al Sharpton, Garner's widow, Esaw, said that the fight wasn't over and that she wouldn't accept Pantaleo's apology.

"Who's going to play Santa Claus for my grandkids this year?" she asked.

Sharpton announced plans for a march on Washington against police brutality on Dec. 13. The march will be led by the parents of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., who died in a police involved shooting, and Garner's widow.

Sharpton, who has led protests over the custody death of Garner and the shooting of Brown, said the New York decision is yet another reason he has lost confidence in state grand juries and local prosecutors to bring such cases.

"State grand juries tend to be too compromised with local politics because local prosecutors run for office and they have to depend on the police for evidence," he said. "Don't we have the right to question grand juries when we're looking at a video and seeing things that don't make sense?"

Garner's mother, Gwen, said she was "truly disappointed" in the grand jury's ruling. Speaking to protesters, she said, "We want you to rally but rally in peace."

Garner was stopped on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes in July, and amateur video shows the black man telling the officers to leave him alone before Pantaleo, who is white, used what appeared to be a banned chokehold.

Garner was heard yelling, "I can't breathe!"

The medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide and determined that the chokehold contributed to the death.

"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," Garner family attorney Jonathan Moore said. "(It) is really just astonishing."

"We are not advocating violence," he added. "We are advocating that police violence stop. Enough is enough."

Garner's father, Ben Garner, spoke out angrily to the Staten Island Advance after the decision was announced.

"Who can control the Police Department? We had a damn video tape," he said. "I can't control what anyone does, but I want peaceful protests."

Darla Miles has more from Harlem on the Garner family's reaction:

De Blasio spoke at a news conference Wednesday, calling for any demonstrations to be peaceful and touching on how the incident has affected him personally. He said there is the challenge that the police are present to protect, yet there is a fear of the police among many young people and families. He said he and his wife have worried for years about son Dante's safety and have spoken to him about it.

"I couldn't help but immediately think of what it would mean to me to lose Dante," he said. "Black lives matter...it's a phrase that never should have to be said. But it does have to be said."

President Barack Obama said the decision underscores the need to strengthen the trust and accountability between communities and law enforcement. While not commenting on the decision specifically, he said there are "too many instances where people just do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly." Obama says police have to deal with crime every day, but says they can do their jobs better if people have confidence in the law enforcement system.

Attorney Stuart London said Pantaleo testified last month for a couple of hours, a move many legal experts deemed unusual in such a case. But it is one that they say paid off by painting a different picture that what the video showed.

"My client was gratified that they took the time to listen to everything he said and he knows his future is in their hands," London said.

Pantaleo's partner, Justin D'Amico, testified after being granted immunity from prosecution, he added.

Kemberly Richardson reports from the Staten Island neighborhood where Eric Garner died:

Not everyone agreed, including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. She issued a statement, which in part read:

"This was a terribly disappointing outcome and is not reflective of the events that led to Eric Garner's death. What makes this even more infuriating is the frequent lack of accountability, which is why I urge the U.S. Department of Justice to launch its own investigation."

Pantaleo had been stripped of his gun and badge, and placed on desk duty while the case was under investigation. He is likely to remain on modified duty while the NYPD conducts an internal investigation that could result in administrative charges.

Rep. Charles Rangel spoke out on the grand jury's decision:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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eric garnernypdNew York City
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