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DOJ to open criminal civil rights investigation into Eric Garner's death

After a grand jury declined to return charges against a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a Justice Department investigation.
Holder announces federal civil rights investigation in NYPD chokehold death 03:45

The Justice Department will open a criminal civil rights investigation into the death of Eric Garner, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday evening.

Attorney General Eric Holder announces DOJ investigation of NYPD chokehold case. CBS News

The announcement follows the news that a grand jury in New York declined to return any charges against the New York City police officer who used a chokehold on Garner, who died after the confrontation.

Holder promised "an independent, thorough, fair and expeditious" investigation. Additionally, he said, the Justice Department will conduct a complete review of the material gathered during the local investigation into Garner's death. Holder said he spoke with Garner's widow, President Obama, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier in the day to inform them of the Justice Department's next moves.

Garner's death was a tragedy, Holder said. "All lives must be valued -- all lives," he added.

Members of New York's congressional delegation expressed shock and outrage Wednesday after the grand jury decision's came out, particularly since the confrontation between Garner and officer Daniel Pantaleo was caught on camera.

Obama reacts to grand jury decision in Eric Garner case 04:30

In July, Pantaleo attempted to arrest Garner, a father of six, for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. A cell phone video shows Pantaleo putting his arm around Garner's neck -- even though the use of chokeholds is banned in the New York Police Department -- and bringing him to the ground after he refused to be handcuffed. Garner is heard in the video saying repeatedly, "I can't breathe!"

President Obama also addressed the grand jury decision at an event Wednesday afternoon.

"When anybody in America is not being treated equally under the law, that's a problem, and it's my job to solve it," he said, noting that he has initiated a task force to produce recommendations for improving relations between police and minority communities.

No indictment for officer in NYC chokehold death 03:28

The investigation into Garner's death is the same sort of investigation opened into the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. It is also the same kind of investigation opened into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, which remains "ongoing" nearly three years later.

Holder noted that Garner's death is "one of several recent incidents across the country that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect."

On Thursday, Holder heads to Cleveland as part of his "building community trust" tour. He will be making other stops in the future to Memphis, Tennessee, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Oakland, California.

"As the brother of a retired police officer, I know in a personal way about the bravery of the men and women in uniform who put their lives at risk every day to protect public safety," Holder said. "It is for their sake as well that we must seek to heal the breakdown in trust we have seen."

Holder acknowledged that people are likely to protest the Garner grand jury decision, and he urged people to remain peaceful.

"I have said before, throughout our history, the most successful movements have been those that adhered to the principles of nonviolence," he said.

CBS News Justice Department reporter Paula Reid contributed to this report.

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