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Eric Garner Chokehold Death Grand Jury Decision May Be Imminent

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A grand jury decision is expected to come soon, in the case of the apparent police chokehold that killed Eric Garner on Staten Island this past summer.

Garner, a father of six, died in July after being placed in an apparent chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Garner was being arrested for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

The grand jury began hearing evidence in the case Sept. 29.

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, a small, but spirited protest about the Garner case was held outside the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office on Tuesday.

"I hope that Officer (Daniel) Pantaleo is indicted," said Steve Quester of the group Stand up for Racial Justice.

Quester said he would like to see the officer who was seen on video placing Garner in the chokehold charged with murder.

Former prosecutor Matthew Galluzzo said such a charge is not likely. Such a charge would require premeditation and intention to cause a death.

"A murder charge would mean there's evidence that this officer intended to kill Mr. Garner," he said.

But the grand jury is expected to review a range of charges, including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and reckless endangerment.

"I think if he didn't testify an indictment would be almost certain." Galluzzo said. "So I think the only way he really has to escape indictment probably is to get up there and explain - he thought he was just doing his job, maybe he'd been trained to do this or it was an accident."

Pantaleo's attorney, Stuart London, told CBS2's Aiello: "My client's nervous. (He's) gratified the grand jurors took the time to listen to his testimony. He realizes his fate is in their hands."

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday that extra police officers will be on hand on Staten Island for the decision in Garner's death.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the officers will be going by a tolerant and tougher policy, and blocking traffic will not be on the approved list of activities for protesters.

Last week, protesters were marching around the city -- angry about the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting that killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. A week ago Tuesday night, the protesters blocked an entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel and shut down the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, and also completely blocked traffic on the FDR Drive and the West Side Highway.

Police said no such behavior will be tolerated when the grand jury rules in the Garner case. Bratton said Tuesday that he anticipates the grand jury could make a decision this week.

"If we ask you to get out of the street, you should probably get out of the street," said NYPD Chief of Department James O'Neill. "We need to get traffic, and we need to get emergency vehicles through. We have to balance their rights with the rights of the other 8 1/2 million New Yorkers."

At a news conference to tout decreases in crime, de Blasio, Bratton and other members of the NYPD brass took pains to make it clear that they respect the right to protest and free speech. But there are still rules.

"If we think public safety is compromised, the police will act very assertively to address that problem," de Blasio said.

Bratton and NYPD officials told reporters, including WCBS 880's Rich Lamb, on Tuesday that the top ranks of the department have been working hard on a strategy for protests in the Garner case.
"We, as you might expect, are planning accordingly," Bratton said.

Bratton: As Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision Nears, NYPD Readies For Protests

The city's top cop said no matter what the grand jury decides, he is certain there will be demonstrations and that the NYPD is gearing up for any possible contingency, adding that he met Monday with city and religious leaders on Staten Island.

Sources earlier told CBS2 the NYPD will use the same model as it did to handle Occupy Wall Street protests.

Those plans include assigning NYPD task force units to 12-hour shifts, sending in a large contingent of officers on scooters, as well as on foot, and keeping barricade units on standby along with mounted units and aviation.

Sources stressed, however, that the NYPD response to any future Garner case protest will not be "heavy-handed" unless there is immediate damage to people or property. The watch words are "breathing room."

But despite the number of anti-police protests in New York City over the past week, officials emphasized Tuesday that the city is a place that is actively committed to police reform and improving community relations.

Officials said there has been a 79 percent drop in the number of stop, question and frisk actions, and a 16 percent increase in gun seizures from the stops that have been made.

"We want to go after the bad guys. We don't want to go after innocent, law-abiding New Yorkers who just happen to be walking down the street," de Blasio said.

Officials also said there has been a 61 percent decrease in marijuana arrests since the policy was adopted two weeks ago.

The city's message to would-be demonstrators is that New York City is the place that has listened to complaints about police misconduct and is making changes, whatever the Garner grand jury decides, Kramer reported.

"We're doing a lot to change the reality here in our city; to reform the approach and bring our communities and police closer together," de Blasio said. "In some places, people understandably may feel their voices aren't heard. In this city, the voices of the people are heard."

Meanwhile, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan declined to say Tuesday when he expects to announce whether Pantaleo will face criminal charges.

"I'd like the New Yorkers to be patient. The grand jury has been diligently listening to evidence, and we await their decision," he said.

Bratton: As Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision Nears, NYPD Readies For Protests

As WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported, there is no final word on whether witnesses are still appearing or when the panel will finish its work. But sources told CBS2 the grand jury could have a list of possible charges as early as Wednesday morning.

"We're going to answer a lot of questions after they've, we're going to let the grand jury do their work first," Donovan said.

Bratton: As Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision Nears, NYPD Readies For Protests

In cellphone video of the Garner incident, Pantaleo is seen placing his arm around Garner's neck and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.

Garner is heard saying repeatedly, "I can't breathe!" He died a short time later.

The New York City Medical Examiner's office ruled Garner's death a homicide, caused by the officer's apparent chokehold as well as chest and neck compressions and prone positioning "during physical restraint by police."

An independent forensic investigator hired by the Garner family also agreed with the medical examiner's findings.

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