Daniel Pantaleo
A photo of Eric Garner is displayed at a makeshift memorial where he died during an arrest in July, in the borough of Staten Island in New York City Dec. 3, 2014. Reuters

New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo expressed remorse Wednesday for the death of Eric Garner, the 43-year-old unarmed black man he killed with a chokehold in July. Pantaleo’s statement was released minutes after a Richmond County grand jury in Staten Island opted not to indict him in connection with Garner’s death.

“I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves. It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss,” Pantaleo said in a statement, according to NBC New York’s Steven Bognar.

Garner died July 17 after an altercation with a group of NYPD officers attempting to arrest him for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally. Pantaleo restrained Garner with a chokehold, a maneuver that the NYPD banned in 1993. Garner, who suffered from asthma, lost consciousness at the scene and suffered a heart attack en route to a hospital. A New York City medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide by “compression of the neck.”

A Staten Island grand jury considered several possible criminal charges against Pantaleo, including criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter. “Oh my God, are you serious? Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, told the New York Daily News after the decision. “I’m very disappointed. You can see in the video that [Pantaleo] was dead wrong.”

Pantaleo was an eight-year NYPD veteran at the time of the incident, the Associated Press reported. The NYPD stripped him of his badge and gun on July 19 and relegated him to desk duty.

New York police union president Patrick Lynch defended Pantaleo in August and said that the officer was “very distraught” over Garner’s death. “No one wants to have to deal with the fact that someone died because of something they had to do. It’s a terrible loss,” Lynch said.

Pantaleo was sued twice in the past for alleged racially motivated misconduct while on the job. Two black men accused him in 2012 of subjecting them to an illegal strip search in broad daylight. Pantaleo purportedly “tapped” each man’s testicles during the search, which he claimed was a bid to discover any contraband, the Daily News reported. The suit was settled last January.

In a second lawsuit, a man named Rylawn Walker accused a group of NYPD officers that included Pantaleo of arresting him despite the fact that he was “committing no crime at the time and was not acting in a suspicious manner” and of including misleading data on a police report to justify the arrest, the Staten Island Advance reported. Charges against the man were ultimately dismissed.