We shouldn’t second-guess jurors. After all, they got to see and hear all sorts of evidence we didn’t. (Because courts keep the evidence that would make things clear secret, but whatever.)
Well, the system doesn’t work. And jurors are often stupid.
What we do know about the deliberations in the case of Eric Garner, the New York Parks Department horticulturalist and father of six who died after being subjected to a chokehold by NYPD officers on a street in Staten Island points to a grand jury that didn’t understand the law, became needlessly distracted by extraneous issues and simply didn’t reason logically.
The grand jury voted, in a majority decision, not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who administered the lethal chokehold.
Many Americans who have seen the cellphone video of Garner’s killing can’t understand why no charges were filed against the officers. (Yes, plural — the other officers were clearly accessories to Pantaleo’s crime.) Rarely has there been such a clear-cut case of murder.
“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” Garner says as he’s thrown to the ground and restrained by a group of officers. A subsequent video shows EMS technicians urging him to respond, while making little effort to turn him on his back, much less attempt to administer CPR. It doesn’t take a genius to understand what happened: Garner, who was 350 pounds and thus not in perfect health, falls unconscious after being strangled. EMS techs determine that he has a pulse, but is unresponsive — yet fail to try to revive him. By the time they load him into an ambulance, he is minutes away from brain death.
New York City’s coroner ruled the death a homicide.
Stuart London, the lawyer representing Officer Pantaleo, told The New York Times some of what went on in the grand jury. Bear in mind, this is the winning lawyer, paid to make his client look good. Even so, he paints an ugly picture of the so-called justice system:
“The officer tackled some of the most damaging evidence head-on. He acknowledged that he heard Mr. Garner saying, “I can’t breathe, I cant breathe,” and insisted that he tried to disengage as quickly as he could, according to his lawyer, Stuart London. At the same time, Mr. Garner’s ability to speak, the officer testified, suggested that he, in fact, could breathe.
“He wanted to get across to the grand jury that it was never his intention to injure or harm anyone,” Mr. London said. “He was really just describing how he was attempting to arrest someone.”
Eric Garner was, of course, pleading for his life. Officer Pantaleo ignored him. But that’s not bad — that’s good! Because to Pantaleo, the fact that Garner was saying anything at all meant that he wasn’t actually choking!
You gotta love this logic. Except for the part about Garner dying. Too bad Garner can’t come back from the dead, zombie-style, to growl: “See? I told you!”
Of course, there is the question of why Pantaleo tried to arrest Garner in the first place considering that the offense, selling untaxed loose cigarettes on the street, is a low-level misdemeanor easily addressed by the issuance of a desk appearance ticket. But that wasn’t before the grand jury.
What they were charged with deciding was whether Pantaleo had used excessive force against Garner. And here’s where things get downright ludicrous.
“Marvyn Kornberg, a Queens lawyer, has represented several police officers accused of crimes, and said it was likely the autopsy report that played a role in the grand jury’s decision. The report listed several contributing factors in his death, including his obesity, weak heart and asthma,” reported the Times.
“There were so many causes of death in the autopsy report. You have to prove this guy caused his death,” Kornberg said
Here is where stupid wrong thinking runs off the rails.
Under New York state’s felony-murder rule, if you mug an old lady and she dies of a heart attack — even though you didn’t intend to kill her — you’re charged with second-degree murder. The logic is straightforward: if you hadn’t mugged her, she wouldn’t be dead.
We can all stipulate that Eric Garner wasn’t the picture of health. But that’s not the point. The point is, Garner was alive before Daniel Pantaleo and his posse of cops valiantly protecting New York City from the scourge of untaxed cigarettes approached him. Afterwards, not so much.
To look at it another way: If Garner had spent that day in a café drinking coffee instead of getting choked by cops and neglected by EMS, he’d almost certainly be alive, weak heart, fat body and all, today.
Members of this grand jury were clearly taken in by the testimony of a uniformed officer.
Moreover, they conflated the coroners’ scientific causes of death with the legal cause — which was the chokehold banned by the NYPD since the 1990s. If they’d understood the legal cause of death, the grand jury almost certainly would have found cause to indict Officer Pantaleo.
For aNewDomain, I’m Ted Rall.