NEW YORK CITY — The New York City-based FBI team investigating if police violated the civil rights of Eric Garner has been replaced by a Washington-D.C-based unit.
Federal prosecutors and FBI agents based in Brooklyn don't feel there is enough clear evidence to show that NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo violated Garner's rights when he put him in a chokehold, leading to the Staten Island man's death.
But other prosecutors in the Justice Department believe there is enough evidence to move forward with a case, the New York Times reported.
Garner, 43, died after police attempted to arrest him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island on July 17, 2014. The encounter, captured on video, shows police dragging Garner to the ground.
Pantaleo used a chokehold during the encounter, the video showed. The maneuver is banned under NYPD policy.
Garner said "I can't breathe" 11 times on the video and the medical examiner said that a chokehold helped cause Garner's death.
Garner's last words became a rallying cry for protests against police brutality across the country.
A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo.
A spokeswoman from the FBI's New York office declined to comment and the Justice Department, led by former Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, did not immediately respond to calls.
The standard to show that a person's civil rights were violated is a high one. Prosecutors must prove that Pantaleo willfully and intentionally deprived Garner of rights guaranteed him by the Constitution.
Pantaleo's lawyer Stuart London said there was no intent to violate Garner's rights.
"This was always a simple street encounter where officer Panteleo utilized his NYPD training to subdue an individual," said London, who questioned the shift in personnel on the case.
"If it is true that the Justice Department is rejecting the recommendations of seasoned FBI agents and Assistant United States attorneys this is a gross miscarriage of justice. In our system of justice, politics should never take the place of the rule of law," London added.
FBI agents and prosecutors in New York believe the video bolstered their case that nothing was done wrong while Justice Department prosecutors believe the video was proof of wrongdoing on the officer's part.
Comptroller Scott Stringer settled a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Garner family for $5.9 million in July 2015.