Judge agrees to hear arguments over release of Garner grand jury records
The mother of Eric Garner , the 43-year-old Staten Island man who died after a New York police officer put him in an unlawful chokehold, on Monday called for the resumption of weekly protests after a judge said he would hear oral arguments over whether to unseal the grand jury transcript in connection with the case.
Speaking on the steps of Richmond County courthouse in Staten Island, Gwen Carr and a lawyer said rallies over the deaths of black men at the hands of police had been suspended out of respect for the families of two NYPD officers who were shot dead in Brooklyn on 20 December . With funeral services for the officers having been held, protests will resume on Tuesday, on the steps of the Staten Island courthouse, to demand a release of the grand jury transcript.
“I want transparency,” said Carr, who wore a sweatshirt emblazoned with her son’s now famous last words: “I can’t breathe”.
“I want to understand how they came back with no true bill for my son.”
The veteran New York supreme court justice William E Garnett said on Monday he would hear oral arguments from both sides on 29 January over whether to release testimony and evidence from the proceedings and what information – if any – should be made public.
In December, a grand jury panel declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the New York police officer who placed Garner in the chokehold last July. Garner died of injuries sustained during the arrest, which was captured on video by a passerby. The decision touched off protests that roiled the city streets and beyond.
Grand juries take place in secret and the documents are rarely made public. The release of the transcripts in a Missouri grand jury proceeding over the August shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old, Michael Brown , at the hands of a police officer was extremely uncommon.
Those pushing for the release of the Garner transcript say it is in the public’s interest to do so. Lawyers for the New York Post, the office of public advocate Letitia James, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the Legal Aid Society have all filed petitions in state supreme court in Staten Island arguing for an exception.
“The lion’s share of what went on in that grand jury room needs to be made public, both in terms of what happened to the Eric Garner case and what is our future policy with regard to grand juries,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU at a press conference on Monday.
She added: “Should they exist? Should they continue to function in secret or should they be open entirely, or in part? That’s what this case is about. If ever there was an application that involved compelling interests in the people’s right to know and in lifting the veil of secrecy, this is it.”
The office of Staten Island district attorney Daniel Donovan, who failed to get an indictment against the police officer implicated in Garner’s death, has asked the judge to keep the grand jury documents sealed.
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