The U.S. Justice Department has replaced the New York City team of agents and lawyers investigating the 2014 death of Eric Garner in a chokehold, an unusual shake-up that could jump-start the long-stalled case and put the government back on track to seek criminal charges, the New York Times reports. Garner, 43, died on a Staten Island street corner, where two police officers confronted him and accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes. Officer Daniel Pantaleo was seen on a video using a chokehold, prohibited by the New York Police Department, to subdue him. Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for protesters.
Federal authorities have been investigating whether officers violated Garner’s civil rights. Federal prosecutors and FBI officials in New York City have opposed bringing charges, while prosecutors with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division argued there was clear evidence to do so. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who as the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York oversaw the beginning of the federal inquiry, has been considering how to proceed. The Times says the FBI agents who have been investigating the case were replaced with agents from outside New York. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are no longer assigned to the case. It is not clear whether DOJ civil rights prosecutors will work alone in presenting evidence to a grand jury in Brooklyn and in trying the case if charges are eventually brought.