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New York City grand jury to hear police choke-hold case

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York City prosecutor said on Tuesday he will present evidence to a grand jury next month to determine whether anyone should be criminally charged in the death of an unarmed man who police put in a choke hold while arresting him.

Daniel Donovan Jr., the district attorney in the New York borough of Staten Island, said in a statement that Eric Garner's death had been investigated "with a full appreciation that no person is above the law, nor beneath its protection."

The death of Garner, who was black, stoked outrage across the city and has become the first major test of Mayor Bill de Blasio's campaign promise to mend relations between the police and black and Latino New Yorkers since taking office in January.

Donovan declined to say what criminal charges he would ask grand jurors to consider or who might be called as a witness. Grand juries, which can indict someone if the prosecutor presents sufficient evidence, operate in secrecy.

Garner, 43, was suspected of peddling loose, untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk when police arrested him last month. In bystanders' videos of his last moments, he can be seen arguing angrily with police officers before he was taken to the ground. Officers said he resisted arrest.

The city's medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, saying the police officers killed him by compressing his neck and chest as they restrained him. His health problems, including asthma and obesity, were contributing factors, the medical examiner said.

The police department has put two of the officers on desk duty, including Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who choked Garner. Four emergency medical technicians, one of whom can be seen in a video doing little to help the dead or dying Garner beyond checking his pulse, also have been suspended.

For more than 20 years, the New York Police Department's patrol guide has barred officers from using choke holds, warning that they can be deadly.

Stephen Davis, the police department's chief spokesman, released a statement saying the department was cooperating with Donovan's investigation.

The police's internal affairs bureau also is investigating the case. No one has been arrested in connection with Garner's death.

Mayor de Blasio said in a statement he was pleased with Donovan's announcement.

"New York City deserves an investigation into the Garner case that is fair and complete," the statement said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist who has been representing Garner's family, said he and the family would meet again with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn on Thursday.

"This announcement does not impact our move for federal takeover of this case at all," Sharpton said in a statement.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Frank McGurty, Bill Trott and Eric Beech)

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