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New York's Highest Court Asked to Release Eric Garner Grand Jury Testimony

By Nicholas Rizzi | May 6, 2015 4:40pm
 The NYCLU filed an appeal to a judge's decision not to release testimony from the Eric Garner grand jury.
The NYCLU filed an appeal to a judge's decision not to release testimony from the Eric Garner grand jury.
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New York Daily News

STATEN ISLAND — The New York Civil Liberties Union filed an appeal Tuesday to the state's highest court to release testimony from the Eric Garner grand jury.

The NYCLU — along with Public Advocate Letitia James, the Legal Aid Society, the NAACP and the New York Post — filed the appeal in the appellate division of New York Supreme Court to overturn a judge's decision not to release testimony from the grand jury.

“Across the country people are coming together to protest the failure of our criminal justice system to value black lives,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. 

“New York has an opportunity to end the secrecy that has heightened deep-seated suspicions about the criminal justice system’s willingness and commitment to hold police officers accountable when they kill unarmed civilians."

Appeal to Release Eric Garner Grand Jury Testimony

In March, Judge William Garnett sided with District Attorney Dan Donovan to keep the testimony sealed because the parties who pushed for the records did not establish a clear need to lift secrecy and could place the witnesses in jeopardy.

"If every newsworthy case were deemed compelling and thus justified disclosure, the veil of grand jury secrecy would be lifted," Garnett wrote in his ruling.

"Every citizen's right to have fellow citizens, sitting on a grand jury, check the power of police and the prosecutor without pressure from outside influences — real or perceived — would be imperiled."

In its appeal, the NYCLU said not knowing why the grand jury ruled not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Garner was "incompatible with the understanding that democracy works best when public policy choices are undertaken by an informed electorate and their representatives."

"The death of Eric Garner at the hands of police officers and the grand jury investigation that ended without an indictment provoked considerable, on-going discussion in the halls of government and demonstrations in the streets of New York," the NYCLU wrote in its motion.

"These discussions and demonstrations are part of an unprecedented nationwide conversation about reform of police practices and the American criminal justice system."

Garner, 44, died after Pantaleo used an apparent chokehold to subdue him while trying to place him under arrest on charges of selling untaxed cigarettes.

The medical examiner later ruled Garner's death a homicide, but a grand jury ruled not to indict Pantaleo for his death — which sparked a wave of protest in the city.

In December, the groups petitioned a Staten Island court to release redacted testimony, instructions given to the grand jury, a list of evidence presented and physical and documentary evidence — including four videos.

Garnett ruled to keep the testimony secret and a high court agreed to expedite the appeals process of the release last month. 

Oral arguments for the appeal will be heard in June, shaving off about a year of the appeals normal processing time, Matthew Brinckerhoff, James' lawyer, previously told DNAinfo New York.