Shortly after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision, Holder announced that the Justice Department would conduct a federal investigation into Garner's death and look for potential civil rights violations.
Pantaleo initially confronted Garner, 43, on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. A video shot by an onlooker showed Garner telling officers to leave him alone as they tried to arrest him and an officer wrapping his arm around Garner's neck, even as he repeatedly told the officer he couldn't breathe.
Calling the death a "tragedy," Holder said it was one of "several recent incidents that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect."
The death occurred weeks before the deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, a case also under investigation by the Justice Department and in which a local grand jury last week also declined to indict the officer involved. The cases have contributed to a national discussion about use of excessive force by police and their treatment of minorities.
"This is not a New York issue or a Ferguson issue alone," Holder told reporters late Wednesday. "Those who have protested peacefully across our great nation following the grand jury's decision in Ferguson have made that clear."
Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said the grand jury found "no reasonable cause" to bring charges. The grand jury could have considered a range of charges, from reckless endangerment to murder. Donovan was mum on the process.
On Thursday, a New York City judge released a few details of the grand jury proceedings, including that the jury sat for nine weeks, that it heard testimony from 22 civilian witnesses and 28 others, including police officers and medical personnel. The jury saw 60 exhibits admitted into evidence, including four videos, NYPD records and autopsy information.
Judge Stephen Rooney made the limited information about the process public on the basis that “the maintenance of trust in our criminal justice system lies at the heart of these proceedings, with implications affecting the continuing vitality of our core beliefs in fairness, and impartiality, at a crucial moment in the nations’ history.”
In his first public comments, Pantaleo said he prays for Garner's family and hopes they accept his condolences.
"I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can't protect themselves," he said in a statement. "It is never my intention to harm anyone, and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner."
Garner's wife, Esaw Garner, said she would not accept Pantaleo's apology. "He's still working,” she said. “He's still getting a paycheck. He's still feeding his kids, and my husband is six feet under."
Al Jazeera and wire services