Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, who unsuccessfully sought an indictment last year against a white police officer in the death of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island man, expressed pity for the grand jury involved in the case in his first radio interview since becoming the official GOP nominee to replace former Congressman Michael Grimm.
Speaking on former mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis’ radio show on AM 970 The Answer, Mr. Donovan said he admired and empathized with the people who had to decide whether there was cause to charge the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, with a crime.
“The people who I really feel bad for as well are those 23 people who got a jury notice in the mail one day, and no one likes to get a jury notice, no one likes to serve on juries,” Mr. Donovan said.
“But they upheld their civic duty, and they sat for nine weeks, and they’re the only people that heard all the evidence, and they’re the only people that deliberated. And I think we should respect their decision, you may not agree with it, but you ought to respect it. Nobody wanted to serve on that jury,” he added.
He went on to lash out against activists who have attacked the grand jury’s decision not to indict, and those who have proposed altering or eliminating the criminal justice process in cases of police abuse. The prosecutor noted that the judge, not himself, selected those who sat on the judicial panel and added that he wished to give them his sympathies.
“I don’t even know who these people are to apologize to them of the ridicule that they’ve been going through or are maybe feeling because of what people are saying about their decision. It was their decision,” Mr. Donovan said. “Our system is the best in the world, it’s been in existence for over 200 years, there’s none better than our system throughout the world. And I think we got to be real cautious if people want to jump ahead and disrupt the proceedings of the grand jury because they disagree with one matter.”
Mr. Donovan also gave his condolences to the Garner family, and told Mr. Catsimatidis that he hoped his eventual Democratic opponent would not politicize the proceedings.
“I would hope that they would respect the fact that there was a man who died and there’s a mother who lost her son and there’s a wife who lost her husband and some children who lost their dad. And I’ve never lost focus of that. They were my first priority and they still remain my first priority,” he said.
Garner’s death and Mr. Pantaleo’s subsequent non-indictment provoked national outrage and massive protests in the streets, in large part because a bystander recorded a video of the killing, in which Mr. Pantaleo appeared to apply a chokehold, a prohibited maneuver, to Garner. The dying man cried 11 times in the scuffle that he could not breathe.
However, the right-leaning district, which encompasses all of Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, is home to many police officers and their families.
Mr. Grimm, another Republican, stepped down from the seat last week after pleading guilty to a single felony tax evasion charge. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has yet to call a special election to fill the vacancy, though federal law requires him to do so at some undefined point.