Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday that the Justice Department will conduct a civil rights investigation into the death of Eric Garner, a black man who died after being placed in a chokehold by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
Holder's announcement came shortly after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in Garner's death.
"Prosecutors will conduct an independent, thorough, fair and expeditious investigation," Holder said. "The department will conduct a complete review of the material gathered during the local investigation."
"We’ve all seen the video of Mr. Garner’s death," Holder said. "His death, of course, was a tragedy. All lives must be valued. All lives."
Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York and the current nominee to replace Holder, responded to the decision in a statement of her own.
“Since the death of Eric Garner last July, our office has monitored this case closely. At the outset, informed by prior experience and in keeping with the standard practice in these types of cases in New York, the local investigation proceeded first," Lynch said. "As the Attorney General explained earlier tonight, because the local investigation has come to a close, the Justice Department will now move forward with its own independent inquiry to determine whether federal civil rights laws have been violated."
In an earlier press conference, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called Garner's death "a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure," said he had spoken to both Holder and Lynch.
"They made clear that the investigation initiated by the U.S. attorney would now move forward, move expeditiously, and be a thorough investigation," he said.
Pantaleo placed Garner in a chokehold on July 17 while arresting him for selling untaxed cigarettes. A video of the incident shows Garner screaming that he "can't breathe" multiple times before going limp. A medical examiner later ruled Garner's death a homicide and determined the chokehold to be the cause of death.
Immediately following the grand jury decision, New York lawmakers demanded a federal investigation into Garner's death.
"The death of Eric Garner is a tragedy that demands accountability," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said. "Nobody unarmed should die on a New York City street corner for suspected low-level offenses. I'm shocked by this grand jury decision, and will be calling on the Department of Justice to investigate."
Gillibrand's Senate colleague, fellow New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, said he was confident in the Justice Department's ability to investigate Garner's death.
“I am confident that Loretta Lynch will conduct a tough but fair investigation into the tragic death of Eric Garner," Schumer said in a statement. "She is both a consummate professional with a strong commitment to justice, and has a close working relationship with the New York City law enforcement community.”
"I'm struggling, because I'm also a father of two young African-American boys," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). "And I don't know what to say about what is happening in this country right now. We're better than this as a country."
The decision in Garner's case came just one week after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. That decision sparked days of protests across the country, and officials prepared for similar demonstrations in New York City on Wednesday.
In his statement, Holder urged protesters to remain peaceful.
"This is not a New York issue or a Ferguson issue alone," he said. "Those who have protested peacefully across our great nation following the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson have made that clear."