NEW YORK - A judge on Thursday refused to release testimony heard by a grand jury that declined to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, finding he hadn't heard a valid reason to make the secret information public.
The New York Civil Liberties Union and others had asked the court to order Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan to release the grand jury transcript, including the testimony of the officer involved, Daniel Pantaleo, and dozens of witnesses, detailed descriptions of evidence and other documentation. A similar step was voluntarily taken by the prosecutor in Ferguson, Mo., when a grand jury refused to indict an officer in the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, 18.
Both Garner and Brown were black; the officers involved are white. The deaths sparked nationwide protests about the treatment of communities of color by law enforcement and a debate about the role of race in policing.
The effort to make the Garner grand jury record public had been considered a longshot given that New York laws explicitly bar disclosure absent a court order. But the decision also comes amid a debate over whether the laws should be revised to provide more transparency in the process.
Civil liberties lawyers had argued that the public needs to reconcile the widely watched video of Garner's July 17 death with the decision not to indict the officer involved.
But State Supreme Court Justice William Garnett wrote that the law required the NYCLU and the other parties who brought the lawsuit to establish a "compelling and particularized need" to release the grand jury minutes. "What would they use the minutes for? The only answer which the court heard was the possibility of effecting legislative change," he wrote. "That . . . does not satisfy the requirements of the law."
Attorney Jonathan Moore, who represents Garner's relatives, said they were disturbed by the ruling: "The ability for the public to see what that process was like would have been an important step in understanding what happened."