U.S. attorney general vows to examine Eric Garner case - rights groups

By Julia Harte
Demonstrators protest as they march to the location where Eric Garner was killed on the one year anniversary of his death in New York, July 17, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Julia Harte

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. civil rights leaders said Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised on Tuesday to examine the status of a federal probe into the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man whose 2014 death at the hands of New York City police sparked protests.

Garner died in July 2014 after a white police officer put him in a chokehold. The Justice Department’s probe into his death has been stalled by internal disagreements over whether federal investigators have enough evidence to proceed, according to news reports.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights leader from New York, urged Sessions to "move aggressively" on the case, Sharpton told reporters.

Garner, a father of six, was accused of illegally selling cigarettes on a sidewalk when an officer put him in the chokehold from behind and brought him down with the help of other officers. Garner complained repeatedly that he could not breathe.

The city medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, with asthma and obesity as contributing factors.

The Garner case was the only issue on which Sessions promised to take action during Tuesday’s 45-minute meeting with six civil rights advocates who raised concerns over his stance on police reform, voting laws and minority rights, the advocates told a news conference.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the meeting.

Sessions called three civil rights groups about a week after he was confirmed on Feb. 8 to express his interest in talking with them, Sharpton said.

Sessions declined to comment when the advocates urged him to advise President Donald Trump against creating a voter fraud task force, said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The advocates cited numerous studies showing such fraud was rare in the United States, she said.

The civil rights leaders said they also expressed disappointment with the Justice Department's recent decisions to reverse Obama administration efforts to challenge a Texas voter identification law and allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

(Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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