The District Attorney's Office today released select information from the Staten Island grand jury probe into Eric Garner case. Much of the information was already publicly available, and did not include testimony or transcripts heard in relation to the case.
Staten Island Supreme Court Judge Stephen Rooney authorized the limited release one day after the grand jury decided not to indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Garner, a black man suspected of selling contraband cigarettes.
The district attorney's office did not ask the court to release the transcripts of the grand jury testimony or any of the exhibits shown to them, according to the judge's order.
Grand jury evidence is rarely released to the public, but Rooney determined that "a limited incursion into the sacrosanct principle of grand jury secrecy is deemed necessary to serve overarching public interest." He cited a lack of public trust in the criminal justice system.
The court allowed the D.A.'s office to disclose the following bits of information:
- the grand jury sat for for nine weeks
- They heard from 50 witnesses, 22 of them were civilians and the rest were police officers, emergency medical personnel and doctors.
- 60 exhibits were admitted to evidence. Of these, four of them were videos
The Garner case has drawn comparisons to the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. In that case, prosecutors opted to release witness testimony and transcripts without a court order. Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor in charge of the Ferguson case, consulted private attorney John M. Hessel, who advised him that he could release the documents without having to obtain an order.
"To the contrary, you are really obligated under the Missouri sunshine law to make records that are open available to the public," Hessel told the New York Times.
McCulloch's move to release all of the testimony and evidence is not the norm.
In some ways, the public already has all the evidence it needs: a cellphone video showing officer Pantaleo take down Garner in a chokehold. The video has been posted online since the incident occurred.
Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.