NEW YORK - US Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday promised a full investigation into a white New York police officer's role in the choking death of an unarmed black man, following a night of protests over a grand jury decision not to bring charges in the incident.
More protests were expected on Thursday in New York. The grand jury's decision on Wednesday came nine days after the news that a white officer in Missouri who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager would also not face criminal charges.
The New York officer, Daniel Pantaleo, could face disciplinary action from an internal probe, his lawyer said, adding that he expects that process to move quickly.
A departmental investigation will likely focus on whether he employed a chokehold, banned by New York Police Department regulations, contributing to the death of 43-year-old Eric Garner as officers arrested him in July.
The New York and Missouri cases have sparked sometimes violent protests around the country by demonstrators who say US law enforcement and the criminal justice system are stacked against African Americans and other minorities.
Speaking in Cleveland, where he announced the Justice Department had found the police department in that city systematically engaged in excessive use of force, Holder said officials must do more to repair the trust between police officers and the communities they patrol.
Federal investigations into the Missouri and New York cases, which are ongoing, are not enough, said Holder, who is the country's top law enforcement official.
The Cleveland investigation, which began in March 2013, gained added prominence after a Cleveland police officer last month shot dead a 12-year-old boy who was carrying what turned out to be a replica pellet gun on a playground.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office in January promising to improve relations between minority New Yorkers and police, told reporters on Thursday the city's thousands of patrol officers would undergo extensive retraining.
"The relationship between police and community has to change," he told a news conference. "People need to know that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives."
Stuart London, the police officer's lawyer, said in an interview Thursday that Pantaleo testified to the grand jury that he never put pressure on Garner's neck. Instead, Pantaleo said he used a proper takedown technique, London said.
That account was echoed by Patrick Lynch, the president of the patrolmen's union, who called Pantaleo a "model" officer at a press conference on Thursday.
London said he expects the internal police review to conclude quickly, perhaps within weeks, and expressed confidence his client would be exonerated.
The city's medical examiner has said police officers killed the 43-year-old Garner by compressing his neck and chest, adding that Garner's asthma and obesity had contributed to his death.