Eric Garner Grand Jury Access Fight Gets Muscle

     STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (CN) – The New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board has joined the swelling cry for more information into the grand jury that let a police officer walk after executing a fatal chokehold on Eric Garner.
     A medical examiner deemed 43-year-old Garner’s death a homicide, but a grand jury opted in December not to pursue charges against his killer, Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo.
     Protests erupted across the country as footage of the fatal encounter went viral, showing Garner’s gasping “I can’t breathe” at least 11 times before passing out. The police had stopped him for selling loosies, or loose cigarettes, near the Staten Island Ferry.
     As the New York Civil Liberties Union appeals the decision by Richmond County Judge William Garnett to keep the grand jury transcripts under seal, other transparency advocates have joined the push for access.
     NYC’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, an “independent city agency with subpoena power” charged with handling complaints about police misconduct, added its voice to this chorus with a petition to the Richmond County Supreme Court earlier this month.
     CCRB says it has a “clear obligation … to conduct thorough and complete investigations that assure the public that police officers who commit misconduct will be investigated and recommendations made to NYPD so that officers are held accountable for their actions through effective disciplinary action.”
     “Unjustified use of force by law enforcement personnel cuts at the heart of ordered liberty, and unjustified and reckless physical force resulting in a civilian’s death threaten public safety and confidence in law enforcement in modern society,” the organization’s eight-page filing states.
     “As such, the city has a manifest interest in CCRB thoroughly reviewing such allegations to the fullest extent and taking all appropriate action.”
     The NYPD has launched its own internal investigation into Garner’s death, which also faces scrutiny from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York.
     The latter investigation began under the direction of Loretta Lynch before the prosecutor succeeded Eric Holder in Washington.
     Lynch, the first black woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, has more recently set her sights on the death of Freddie Gray after he suffered a severe spinal cord injury in Baltimore police custody.
     The CCRB wants the court to buoy its lawfully “compelling and particularized need” to see the records.
     Brian Krist, assistant deputy executive director of investigations for the CCRB, filed the request.
     The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 29 news outlets filed an amicus brief in support of the effort for access into the Staten Island grand jury last week.
     Daniel Donovan, the Staten Island prosecutor who helped keep a lid on these records, now represents the island and the southern end of Brooklyn in Congress.
     Voters tapped Donovan to succeed Michael Grimm, who resigned after pleading guilty to a federal tax evasion charge for underreporting earnings at his former restaurant.

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