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Garner probe has gone on so long that witnesses, including the ME, can’t remember testimony, watchdog agency says

The investigation of the 2014 police chokehold death of Eric Garner has dragged on for so long that witnesses, including the city medical examiner, don’t remember their grand jury testimony in the case, according to a new court filing.

The Civilian Complaint Review Board — the watchdog agency that will prosecute Officer Daniel Pantaleo at his NYPD disciplinary trial — argued Wednesday that it needs access to the sealed grand jury minutes in the Garner case to refresh witness memories, including that of the medical examiner.

“The M.E. stated that she wanted to make sure that her testimony at the … trial was consistent with her testimony that she had given to the grand jury and to the (Department of Justice.) However, that would be difficult because of the amount of time that elapsed since those testimonies,” wrote Kerry Jamieson, the CCRB’s assistant general counsel. Barbara Sampson was the city’s medical examiner at the time, though it’s not clear if the court filing refers to her or someone in her office.

Another witness, Felipe Velez, also doesn’t remember everything he said to the grand jury, Jamieson wrote.

The medical examiner’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

A Staten Island grand jury refused to indict Pantaleo after he placed Garner into a fatal chokehold on July 17, 2014.

Public Advocate Letitia James, who’s now been elected New York Attorney General, and other groups called for the public release of the grand jury minutes, but the state’s courts sided with then-District Attorney Daniel Donovan, ruling those records should remain secret.

Donovan, a Republican, lost his seat on the House of Representatives to Democrat Max Rose on Tuesday.

The CCRB first asked Staten Island Supreme Court Judge William Garnett to release the minutes after Donovan’s office refused to share them, but the judge issued a scathing denial in August 2015, claiming the watchdog agency needed the minutes to “avoid irrelevance.”

On Wednesday, the CCRB asked again for the minutes “strictly for the limited purpose of aiding the CCRB’s prosecution” of Pantaleo, arguing that circumstances had “changed significantly” since its original request.

The CCRB’s Administrative Prosecution Unit will serve as prosecutor in the departmental trial.

“I’m glad that the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) is vigorously pursuing their disciplinary case against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who murdered my son Eric with a chokehold that’s been banned by the NYPD for over 20 years,” Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said Wednesday. “As they request these files, I hope for a speedy, fair and positive outcome – unlike the long-overdue, unfair process that the NYPD has been using to protect officers who are responsible for Eric’s death.”

“All of the NYPD officers who were responsible for killing Eric, and related misconduct should be fired,” she said.

The NYPD initially agreed to wait until the Department of Justice completed its civil rights investigation into of Garner’s death, but after the federal probe dragged on for four years, the department hit Pantaleo with disciplinary charges in July.

Pantaleo has been on desk duty since Garner’s death. The disciplinary case could result in anything from loss of vacation days to his job.

Pantaleo is charged with using a banned chokehold to subdue Garner, a father of six who was selling loosie cigarettes in front of a retail strip on Bay Street in Tompkinsville, Staten Island. A widely-viewed cell phone video, first made public by the New York Daily News, shows Garner gasping, “I can’t breathe” nearly a dozen times before he going silent. He died later that day.

source: NYD

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