A Staten Island judge ruled today that records from the Eric Garner grand jury investigation will not be made public after all.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, Public Advocate Letitia James, the Legal Aid Society, and the New York Post. The suit was filed in December of last year, shortly after the grand jury announced that it would not indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was caught on video using the prohibited chokehold that led to Garner’s death.
The release of the records would have been extremely unusual — grand jury proceedings are confidential by law. But the organizations involved argued that release of the records — which would include the testimony heard by the jury, and might have provided insight into what charges were presented — would help restore some of the public’s faith in a justice system that has been increasingly under fire in recent months. If nothing else, the argument went, people would have a better idea of how the grand jury reached its decision.
The grand jury that investigated the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, did release records in that case, and many commentators believed they revealed a prosecutor who was not truly interested in an indictment.
In Garner’s case, Judge William E. Garnett ruled that the groups filing the lawsuit had not shown that they had a “compelling and particularized need” to disclose the grand jury records. While acknowledging that the Public Advocate and the two legal organizations, in particular, may have had “compelling” reason to review the documents, none had a particularized need — meaning a need that was especially applicable in their circumstance, over that of the general public — and therefore had not satisfied both standards.
Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, who is currently running for the congressional seat vacated early this year by Michael Grimm, issued a brief statement saying, “We respect and will adhere to Judge Garnett’s well-reasoned decision.”
The NYCLU issued its own statement, attributed to legal director Arthur Eisenberg. “We are disappointed that the court has chosen to perpetuate secrecy rather than promote transparency. In doing so, the court has reinforced the distrust many New Yorkers already feel toward the performance of the criminal justice system in this case,” Eisenberg said in the statement. The Legal Aid Society also decried the ruling, saying they were “disappointed by the court’s decision and stand by the importance of unsealing.” The latter group also pledged to appeal.
Read the full decision below: