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Donovan Unlikely to 'Shed Any Real Light' on Garner Grand Jury, Sources Say

By Murray Weiss | December 4, 2014 1:37pm
 Staten Island DA Dan Donovan at a recent press conference about domestic violence.
Staten Island DA Dan Donovan at a recent press conference about domestic violence.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

STATEN ISLAND — District Attorney Dan Donovan’s request to release information in the chokehold death of Eric Garner will shed little new light on what the grand jurors heard, DNAinfo New York has learned.

His application to a judge to discuss aspects of the evidence presented to grand jurors whose decision touched off protests across the city and nation will “at best provide a table of contents” such as the number of NYPD officers and eyewitnesses who testified before the grand jury, sources said.

“But it will not tell you if the book was good or bad,” the source added. “Donovan may say how many cops were called, how many civilians, but nothing that will shed any real light on the grand jury evidence.”

Garner Grand Jury Request

Under New York State law, prosecutors are prevented from releasing grand jury information, but after Tuesday's controversial decision not to charge Officer Daniel Pantaleo, Donovan made the unusual move to ask a judge to let him discuss the case.

His application does not include releasing testimony of witnesses — including NYPD officers, paramedics, doctors or police tacticians, which is sealed under state law. And it does not include disclosing important details of the medical evidence and forensics that likely played critical roles in the jurors’ decision not to indict.

The details would also shed no light on the inner workings of how the evidence was presented and questioned by the grand jury panel.

In a statement following the decision, Donovan said that he had been committed to "a fair, thorough, and responsible four-month investigation" into Garner’s death and hoped to get court permission to discuss aspects of the grand jury, albeit in only general terms.

“The judge has discretion, but it too is limited,” the source continued. “Even if he grants the request, there will be nothing that you can’t figure out yourself . . . nothing really of any substance.”

Supreme Court Judge Stephen Rooney is expected to make his decision Thursday.  The fact that Judge Rooney did not brush aside the request immediately may demonstrate he is trying to find a way to accommodate it, the source said.

The stunning vote Wednesday sparked protests and calls for lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding the grand jury, particularly since a viral video captured the confrontation between police and Garner, who repeatedly said he could not breathe while grappling with police.

Unlike in Ferguson, Mo., where the local district attorney had the freedom to release all the grand jury materials in the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, prosecutors in New York must ask permission to disclose or even discuss grand juries — and such requests are usually denied.