A judge on Thursday ruled against releasing evidence presented to a grand jury that failed to indict a New York City police officer who administered a deadly chokehold on Eric Garner, reports The New York Times. Garner’s July 2014 confrontation with police was captured on video.
Justice William E. Garnett of the State Supreme Court on Staten Island decided against the request for public disclosure sought by the New York Civil Liberties Union; the city’s public advocate, Letitia James; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and The New York Post, writes The Times.
Garnett’s ruling bolstered the argument of Staten Island district attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr., who said releasing historically secret evidence would have a “chilling effect” on witnesses, the news outlet notes.
In a decision, Justice Garnett said the parties seeking disclosure had failed to establish a “compelling” need to make the grand jury minutes public.
“This request is not a legally cognizable reason for disclosure,” he continued. “What would they use the minutes for? The only answer which the court heard was the possibility of effecting legislative change. That proffered need is purely speculative and does not satisfy the requirements of the law.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network released a statement shortly after the judge’s decision. Sharpton has been working closely with some members of Eric Garner’s family including his mother and ex-wife. It read in part:
“The decision by Judge William Garnett shows a stunning disregard for the right of the public to know how the grand jury was conducted in a case where the public can clearly see on video that this case should have met the standards for a prima facie case.
A grand jury does not determine conviction and it only determines whether there is enough evidence to go to trial. If a video of a man being choked and saying eleven times ‘I can’t breathe’ was not enough to go to trial, only a release of the grand jury minutes could explain to us why it was not.
With the Judge’s decision, the public is left to speculate as to why not, or to assume that the District Attorney did not present all of the available evidence to the grand jury.
The decision is expected to be appealed, according to The Times, quoting a lawyer for the Garner family, who called the ruling “unfortunate.”
Garner’s death over the summer ignited protests across the nation against police brutality in communities of color. Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed Garner, who was unarmed, in a deadly chokehold as he and other cops tried to take him into custody on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
Garner’s last words: “I Can’t Breathe” were the rallying cry for many protesters and protests across the nation in the months since.
SOURCE: The New York Times