GWEN IFILL: In two cases, in two cities, in less than two weeks, two grand juries declined to indict white police officers accused of killing unarmed black men. But in today's case, in New York, it was on tape.
Hari Sreenivasan has more on the case of Eric Garner.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Reaction to the grand jury decision has been sharp and highlights a very tense relationship between police in New York City and the communities they serve. It's also a test for its new mayor.
Joining us now is Pervaiz Shallwani, criminal justice reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
So, surprised by this?
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI, The Wall Street Journal: You know, I think there is some surprise by this.
I think some people believed that, because there was a video in this case, that there was a little bit more of a clear-cut path to a charge of some kind. And, you know, the grand jury ultimately decided that there wasn't.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. The parallels and the not-so-parallels with Ferguson?
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: I think that some of the parallels are, there is — there is a belief that it's almost impossible to indict a police officer in a case where the autopsy reveals that there's a homicide, but there are very different situations here, just, you know, in, one, how they sort of played out, and, two, the — the on-the-ground the way the situation is.
I think New York City is a much different situation than Ferguson is.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, we just played a little bit of the video. And I think most of the country is sitting there wondering, wait, this is — everyone can see that something horrible happened to this man, that there was a chokehold applied.
The New York City Police Department came out and said, this is not a maneuver that we authorize. The coroner or the medical examiner said this is homicide by choking. Yet still the grand jury couldn't come up with…
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: Well, they said it was in part by a homicide by choking.
But, you know, what the — what the medical examiner determines and how a criminal investigation unfolds is very different. You know, chokeholds are banned by use by the NYPD, but the unions and the officer had maintained that it's a maneuver that they were taught at the academy and he was using that maneuver, and not intended to be a chokehold at all.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, this evening, we also heard the mayor go out and say that this is just one chapter that's closed.
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: Correct.
HARI SREENIVASAN: This is something the New York Police Department and the city has been preparing for.
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: Correct.
The NYPD has been preparing for this for weeks. The police commissioner even last week after the Ferguson riots sent down a couple of his own detectives to learn on-the-ground techniques and learn — get on-the-ground information for how New York City could proceed, you know, when Eric Garner's decision came down.
You still have two other pending investigations. You have an internal affairs investigation that will determine if officer Pantaleo was actually in violation of NYPD protocol. You also have the Department of Justice announcing that they're opening a civil rights investigation today into the Eric Garner matter.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. So when these investigations happen, is that going to change the feeling of the cops on the street, the ones that you talk to as you do your reporting? Right now, what's the position that they're in?
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: It's going to depend on how things sort of unfold I think over next couple days.
I mean, there is some apprehension on the — on the part of the cops, what you hear from some of the unions out there, but, at the same time, you hear the police department say that the cops are going to, you know, go through some retraining. And, ultimately, they expect officers to do their jobs.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, and what kinds of retraining has the police department considered in the wake of this and in the wake of the Ferguson case, which, while it's different, is coming within a week of this?
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: Sure.
The NYPD announced about a week after the Eric Garner incident, less than a week after the Eric Garner incident, that it was going to retrain all 35,000 of its officers. That retraining has already begun, particularly this week. And it's going to focus on things like use of force, use of language and a retraining of some of these techniques that are used in the field.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the change that the New York Police Department went through in the beginning — at the Garner incident, they said someone died in custody. After the video came out, it was a different narrative altogether.
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: Well, I think, to listen to the NYPD, the NYPD said that they didn't realize ultimately that there was a video. And once they realized there was a video, that video was reviewed. And I think they came out and gave what they believed was part of an investigation — how the investigation then would move forward out of that.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And the prosecutor also said today, almost setting the tone, don't expect all of the evidence to be made public, as it was in the Ferguson matter.
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: Correct.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.
And we don't really know whether he tried to go after a lesser charge of, say, manslaughter.
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: Right.
I mean, it's just not 100 percent clear what charges were presented to the grand jury. The Staten Island district attorney has come out and said that, you know, the laws in New York are different from the laws in Missouri. And so he is bound by New York laws and must go to a judge to release some information, and it's not even — unclear what kind of information he is seeking to release.
In Missouri, you know, the laws allowed them to release all the grand jury testimony.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And, finally, is there any action that the New York Police Department can take independent of this grand jury or the Department of Justice?
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: Yes, absolutely.
As it pertains to officer Pantaleo and even the other officer that was with him, who have both been played on — placed on modified duty, they're looking in to determine if they violated any of the NYPD protocols. The NYPD protocols say that there is no use of chokehold allowed.
Now, it will be up to the internal affairs investigators to determine if officer Pantaleo violated that, and then up to the board to make a recommendation on what kind of discipline he gets. And it could be up to as far as him being fired from the police force by police Commissioner Bratton.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.
Pervaiz Shallwani of The Wall Street Journal, thanks very much.
PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: Thanks, Hari.
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