The DOJ’s Investigation Into Garner’s Death

Damon Root supports it:

Holder’s decision to launch a federal inquiry is fully consistent with the original purposes of federal civil rights legislation, which dates back to the Civil Rights Act of 1866. That law was passed by the Republican-led 39th Congress in the wake of the Civil War in response to the former Confederate states’ attempts to harass and oppress the recently freed slaves by stripping them of their newfound liberty and property, denying them the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, and failing–or refusing–to provide them equal treatment under the law.

In other words, the whole point of federal civil rights law is to provide a legal check against state-sanctioned injustice, such as the egregious police misconduct that killed Eric Garner. Attorney General Holder should be commended for putting federal law to its intended purpose in this case.

Paul Cassell hopes the DOJ moves quickly:

With regard to substance, the facts are disturbing — and seemingly, in large part, recorded on video.  And with regard to procedure, unlike the Michael Brown grand jury, we don’t have transcripts of testimony to peruse to make an informed assessment about the fairness of the process. Questions abound.

Here’s where the Justice Department could perform a valuable service — by actually completing this civil rights investigation expeditiously.  To be sure, the proof required for a federal rights charge is demanding. But if the Eric Garner facts are as clear cut as the video makes them out to be, there is no reason why the Justice Department can’t rapidly investigate the case and quickly announce what it finds. The Justice Department should live up to the attorney’s general’s promise yesterday to “expeditiously” announce its decision on whether charges are appropriate in the Eric Garner death … and in the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin deaths.

But Amanda Taub isn’t expecting much from the DOJ:

Demanding a federal investigation is a good way for politicians like de Blasio, Schumer and Gillibrand to show their concern about police violence. Unfortunately it’s not likely to bring justice for Garner.

Simple murder and manslaughter aren’t federal crimes. But killing someone can be one in special circumstances, including when it’s an intentional violation of civil rights. What the DOJ can do is bring charges under the federal civil rights statute in order to prosecute Pantaleo for Garner’s death. And that legal standard is difficult to meet: prosecutors would have to prove that Pantaleo willfully deprived Garner of his civil rights. A police officer intentionally killing someone outside of the set of circumstances in which deadly force is permitted would qualify. But a civil rights charge requires proof of intent, whereas a state manslaughter case could be made by demonstrating negligence