STATEN ISLAND — A state judge has granted District Attorney Dan Donovan’s request to release information in the choke hold death of Eric Garner, but it does not shed any new light on what the grand jurors heard.
“On The Inside” reported early Thursday afternoon that Donovan’s sealed application to Judge Stephen Rooney requested limited disclosure of information about the officers, eyewitnesses and experts who appeared before the panel, but not for the release of their testimony and critical medical or forensic evidence.
“It will at best provide a table of contents, but it will not tell you if the book was good or bad,” a source explained.
In a four-page decision issued Thursday afternoon, Judge Rooney confirmed that Donovan “does not seek the release of transcripts of grand jury testimony or exhibits” and added that “the secrecy of the grand jury is jealously guarded because the confidentiality of its proceedings must be insured if it is to continue to be effective.”
He said “the seminal issue” is whether the “compelling need to allow the public” information outweighs the protections considering the public outcry that the grand jury cleared Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, who died during a struggle with police captured on a viral video.
Judge Rooney essentially granted Donovan’s request, most of it already public disclosed in news reports: the grand jury sat for nine weeks, heard from 50 witnesses — most of them police officers and medical personnel and doctors — and 60 “exhibits” including four videos and records regarding NYPD policies and procedures. Rooney would not permit any further disclosures.
These facts don't further illuminate what the grand jury heard or how prosecutors presented the evidence to them. They did hear from Pantaleo, who explained his mindset and insisted he did not intend to harm the Staten Island man.
Citing Rooney’s decision, Donovan then said he would “have no further comment in connection with the grand jury proceedings relating to the Garner case."
Under New York State law, prosecutors are prevented from releasing grand jury information, but after Tuesday's controversial decision, Donovan made the unusual move to ask a judge to release the skeletal data.
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 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.