The attorney for Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who was cleared in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, tells NBC 4 New York the cop is “cautiously optimistic” about his future after clearing a major legal hurdle this week, though many challenges remain ahead.
Attorney Stuart London spoke to NBC 4 New York Thursday shortly before the union that represents NYPD officers came to his client's defense in a fiery press conference amid ongoing citywide fallout over Wednesday's grand jury decision.
“He is relieved but understands that phase one is over and he needs to go through the scrutiny of an internal affairs investigation as well as a federal probe,” London said. “So he’s cautiously optimistic going forward.”
In delivering a vote of "no true bill," the Staten Island grand jury determined there was not probable cause that a crime was committed by Pantaleo, who was seen on a widely watched amateur video wrapping his arm around Garner's neck as the heavyset, asthmatic 43-year-old yelled, "I can't breathe!", nearly a dozen times while gasping for air during the July 17 confrontation.
Garner's family has said that amateur video, along with the medical examiner's autopsy report, which ruled the man's death a homicide, should have been sufficient evidence to indict. But London says the video is just a snapshot of the altercation and "doesn’t show everything."
London said the widely circulated video doesn’t show the full conversation between Pantaleo and the other officers who responded after Garner was caught selling loose, untaxed cigarettes outside a Tompkinsville store. The video also doesn't show, London said, that Pantaleo waited for reinforcements before using a police tactic the officer and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association have said is not a chokehold, which is forbidden under NYPD policy, but a legal takedown move taught by the police department.
London said the grand jury reviewed two other videos in addition to the amateur clip that Pantaleo explained in great detail.
“He was able to explain every inch of the video and they went through it in excruciating detail,” London said. “The grand jurors were able to have any confusion in their minds answered by him.”
In New York, the grand jury does not hear opening or closing statements from the district attorney, who simply presents evidence and instructs them on the relevant principles of the law they need to make their decision on whether charges should be filed. To formally charge a person with a crime, at least 12 grand jurors who have heard all the evidence and the legal instructions must agree that there is sufficient evidence and reasonable cause to believe a crime was committed.
Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan submitted an application to the court Wednesday seeking authorization to publicly release specific elements of the grand jury proceedings, which are otherwise sealed by law.
In a ruling released Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rooney found in Donovan's favor, writing that, "It is from this vantage point that a limited incursion into the sacrosanct principle of grand jury secrecy is deemed necessary to serve overarching public interest."
The information released to the public, however -- that the grand jury sat for nine weeks, heard from 50 witnesses, including 22 civilians, saw 60 exhibits, including four videos, Garner's medical records, scene and autopsy photographs and documents pertaining to NYPD training and policy -- provides little additional insight into the proceedings.
It wasn't clear if Donovan had asked for the release of other information, and Rooney's decision indicated the application he had submitted to the court would remain sealed "until further order."
Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch defended Pantaleo's handling of the arrest at a press conference Thursday, accusing Mayor de Blasio and other public figures of not supporting the NYPD. He said that Pantaleo is a good cop and "literally an Eagle Scout."
"He's not being portrayed as a good man, but he is a good man and a professional police officer," Lynch said. "Mr. Garner made a choice to resist arrest. It was not a good choice."
"If you're speaking you can breathe," Lynch added, referring to Garner's cries as he struggled for air.
Later Thursday, de Blasio reiterated the NYPD's commitment to reforms outlined in the near-immediate aftermath of Garner's death, including a top-to-bottom re-training for the department's 35,000 officers relating to the use of force, tactics like stop-frisk and other procedures. New programs like one that calls for NYPD officers on certain assignments to wear body cameras, which goes into effect this week, are designed to promote accountability and transparency between police and the communities they serve, the mayor said.
"A lot of people felt pain and frustration. My message -- take that and work for change," de Blasio said Thursday. "The way we go about policing has to change in the city and country. People want to believe they will be treated like their neighbor or anyone in a different neighborhood."
"People need to know black and brown matter just as much as white lives," the mayor continued. "Our generation has to resolve it."
Pantaleo has been on modified desk duty and crime analysis duty since Garner's death. The NYPD said it's internal review of the case is ongoing, and the U.S. Department of Justice said it also is investigating.
Meanwhile, more demonstrations are planned to protest the grand jury's decision across the five boroughs and in other cities along the East Coast. More than 80 people were arrested in New York protests Wednesday, primarily during the course of rallies that jammed traffic and clogged streets in Manhattan and on Staten Island. The protests were largely peaceful.