Yes, I know prosecutors have a great deal of latitude with respect to how they present evidence before a Grand Jury. Usually, however, that power is used to obtain an indictment, not prevent one. However, as this report in the New York Times indicates, eye witnesses before the Grand Jury were carefully told what they could and could not say about Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the police. Specifically, their testimony was censored by the prosecutors who brought the case before the Grand Jury supposedly to obtain an indictment of the police officers who killed Mr. Garner, and censored in such a way as to make it less likely an indictment would issue.
For example, consider Taisha Allen, who was prohibited from describing what she witnessed in what appears to be a very deliberate attempt to make the police officers actions appear less abusive and excessive:
Several times during her testimony, which is kept secret under grand jury rules, Ms. Allen said prosecutors urged her to watch her words. When she said Mr. Garner did not appear to have a pulse, a prosecutor stepped in. “Don’t say it like that,” she recalled the prosecutor saying. “You’re only assuming he didn’t have a pulse.”
A prosecutor also interjected when she told jurors how Mr. Garner was taken to the ground. “I said they put him in a chokehold,” Ms. Allen recalled saying. “‘Well, you can’t say they put him in a chokehold,'” she said a prosecutor responded.
Look at the video of Eric Garner and tell me how else you would describe what was done to him as other than a chokehold?
One wonders if Taisha Allen was instructed not to call what Officer Daniel Pantaleo a choke hold because neither het, nor did any of the other officers at the scene, in their initial report stated that a choke hold was in fact used to take him down and kill him. But witnesses alleged the use of a choke hold and police indifference to Mr. Garner’s condition even before video came out showing that, yes, Eric Garner was choked to death by police who ignored his pitiful and heartbreaking pleas that he could not breathe.
Edward D. Mullins, the head of the sergeants’ union, said the officers and their supervisors did nothing wrong. Officers can take action without sergeants present and regularly do, he said. The lack of any reference to contact with Mr. Garner’s neck in the initial police report was not troubling, Mr. Mullins said, because the Internal Affairs Bureau would later prepare its own, more detailed report.
In addition, Mr. Mullins said, “no one” at the scene thought a chokehold was used. […]
An autopsy was performed the next day. “On external examination of the neck, there are no visible injuries,” according to the final report. On the inside, however, were telltale signs of choking: strap muscle hemorrhages in his neck and petechial hemorrhages in his eyes. No drugs or alcohol were in his system.
The results of the examination contrasted sharply with the Police Department’s initial account, titled “Death of Perpetrator in Police Custody, Within the Confines of the 120 Precinct.” It contained no mention of any contact with Mr. Garner’s neck.
Witnesses also indicated they felt the grand jury members were not interesteds in what they had to say, and that they were more interested in Eric Garner’s pre-existing medical conditions (diabetes and asthma) than in what the police did, and what the paramedics failed to do on that fateful day:
The beauty store manager, Mr. Lee, said he heard the female sergeant say, “Let up, you got him already.” An officer looked up but did not let go, Mr. Lee said.
Before the grand jury, Mr. Lee said he testified briefly about what he saw, but left feeling the jurors, who were able to ask questions, were uninterested. “They didn’t ask me nothing,” he said. […]
Ms. Allen said the medical response and Mr. Garner’s prior ailments seemed to preoccupy the prosecutors and grand jurors when she testified. Mr. Garner had acute asthma, hypertension and a history of diabetes. He was also obese; these conditions were all listed as contributing factors to his death.
It appears, based on what these witnesses told the reporters for the Times, that, much like the case of Michael Brown, prosecutors before the Grand Jury did the best to protect the police suspects, and paint their actions in the most favorable light possible. In other words, they acted like defense attorneys for the very cops who were “suspects’ in Eric Garner’s death. In my view, they appear to have done their best best, to muddy the waters and cast doubt on what any objective observer of the multiple videos of Mr. Garner’s death could plainly see – that a choke hold was used, that Mr. Garner was not resisting but instead begging for his life. Furthermore, they failed to make the case to the grand jurors that no one in a position of authority at the scene, from the police to the EMTs called to the scene, was terribly concerned about a man who choked into unconsciousness and left untreated for far too many minutes, valuable time that could have been used to save his life.
Eric Garner died for the crime of selling “loose” cigarettes, and no one – not the cops, not the prosecutors and not the grand jurors – had any interest in holding anyone responsible for what clearly seems to me a case of at least manslaughter.
Please read the entire article in the NY Times. It’s very detailed, and very damning.