New York grand jury to hear evidence in police choke hold death
People march during the "We Will Not Go Back" march and rally for Eric Garner in the Staten Island borough of New York (REUTERS)

A grand jury will begin hearing evidence next week in the controversial case of Eric Garner, who died after New York police put him in a banned choke hold.

The July 17 death of Garner, a 43-year-old black father of six, spurred national debate over how U.S. police treat minorities.

The issue intensified the following month when a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Brown's death sparked violent protests in the St. Louis suburb.

Garner's death in New York City was ruled a homicide by the city medical examiner, who said police officers killed him by compressing his neck and chest as they restrained him for selling loose cigarettes.

Garner's health problems, including asthma and obesity, were contributing factors, the medical examiner said.

The grand jury will determine whether anyone should be criminally charged in Garner's death.

A meeting on Monday of a grand jury was confirmed by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the municipal police union which says the officers acted properly.

"We are confident that, if the evidence is fairly presented to the grand jury, they will conclude that, while this was a sad and tragic event resulting from Mr. Garner's resistance to arrest, the officers acted properly and within the scope of the law," PBA President Patrick Lynch said in a statement.

The police department's patrol guide bans officers from using choke holds, saying they can be deadly.

Dan Donovan, the district attorney of Staten Island, New York, last month said he would convene a grand jury and present evidence in the Garner case, but a spokesman on Friday declined to comment on whether the panel was meeting on Monday.

A video of police arresting Garner, in which he can be heard saying repeatedly he could not breathe, went viral on the Internet, helping draw attention to the case.