By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York state judge on Thursday refused to release the transcripts of secret grand jury proceedings into the killing of an unarmed black man last July by a white police officer who put him in a chokehold.
Acting Supreme Court Justice William Garnett said that civil liberty groups, the news media, public defenders and New York’s elected public advocate had not shown a “compelling and particularized need” for the records, and that making them public would undermine the grand jury process.
“Most important to the integrity and thoroughness of the criminal justice system is the assurance to witnesses that their testimony and cooperation are not the subject of public comment or criticism,” the judge wrote.
Eric Garner’s death, along with the fatal shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old black man in Ferguson, Missouri, last August by a white police officer sparked protests around the country by people outraged by police treatment of African Americans.
A grand jury in New York City’s Staten Island declined to indict the officer who put Garner in a chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo, on any charges last December.
New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, the Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Staten Island branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the New York Post all petitioned for the release of the grand jury records.
NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg said in a statement that his organization was disappointed with the decision, adding that it “reinforced the distrust many New Yorkers already feel toward the performance of the criminal justice system in this case.”
Daniel Donovan Jr., the Staten Island district attorney who presided over the Garner grand jury proceedings, said in a statement that he respected the judge’s decision.
The NYCLU and Staten Island’s public defender said at a hearing in February the transcript would let the public decide whether officers get special treatment from grand juries.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Shumaker)