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N.Y. Judge Rejects Release Of Grand Jury Testimony In Eric Garner Case

A New York state judge has refused to release grand jury testimony about the death last year of Eric Garner on Staten Island.

Garner, 43, died in July after being placed in a chokehold as he was being arrested for selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk. A grand jury decided in December not to indict the police officer involved in the death.

As NPR's Hansi Lo Wang tells our Newscast unit the grand jury documents "include the testimony of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was captured on video wrapping his arm around Eric Garner's neck before he died."

A bid to release the normally secret grand jury proceedings in the Garner case was made by the New York City public advocate, the Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York Post, and the NAACP and its Staten Island chapter. Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan had opposed the disclosure of the proceedings.

State Supreme Court Justice William Garnett noted that they had not shown a "compelling and particularized need" for the testimony's release, as is required by law.

"If every newsworthy case were deemed compelling and, thus justified disclosure, the veil of grand jury secrecy would be lifted and every citizen's right to have fellow citizens, sitting on a grand jury, check the power of the police and the prosecutor without pressure from outside influences — real or perceived — would be imperiled," Garnett wrote in his order.

Hansi adds:

"Another New York judge did allow some general details about the case to be released shortly after the grand jury's decision was announced. They included the number of witnesses and exhibits admitted as evidence. But exactly what and who they were is still sealed."

The grand jury's decision last December came soon after a similar one in Ferguson, Mo., where an officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. (The grand jury testimony in that case was released.) The two killings prompted large protests — some violent — across the country.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur
Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.