The Department of Justice has replaced the New York-based team of FBI agents and lawyers investigating the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who was suffocated to death by New York Police Department cop Daniel Pantaleo in 2014. The New York Times reports that a change this drastic is highly unusual, and that it could signal a significant shift in the case.
Garner, who was 43 years old when he died, was killed after NYPD officers confronted him on a street corner for illegally selling cigarettes in Staten Island. Video taken at the scene shows Pantaleo putting Garner in a choke hold on the ground. Pantaleo was not charged by a grand jury in 2014, but the Justice Department is investigating whether or not officers violated Garner's civil rights, according to the New York Times.
Garner's death and the failed grand jury indictment sparked weeks of protests across the country, and the new change in lawyers and New York FBI agents investigating the case could mean that federal charges are now a real possibility, according to the Times.
Regarding the Washington, D.C. takeover of the case, Stuart London, one of Pantaleo's attorneys, told the New York Times, "This was always a simple street encounter where Officer Pantaleo utilized his N.Y.P.D. training to subdue an individual." Pantaleo has remained employed by the NYPD on desk duty since he fatally choked Garner in 2014.