Fight for Garner Grand Jury Docs Put to Top NY Court

     MANHATTAN (CN) – The New York Civil Liberties Union appealed to the state’s highest court Tuesday to unearth the grand-jury minutes investigating the Staten Island police officer whose chokehold killed an unarmed Eric Garner.
     Though officer Daniel Pantaleo escaped indictment for Garner’s death on July 17, 2014, which a medical examiner ruled a homicide, the case prompted multiple civil justice reforms in New York.
     Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently tapped New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to oversee future cases of alleged police brutality, taking them out of the hands of local prosecutors.
     Amid the massive protest that erupted over clearing Pantaleo, civil liberties groups joined New York City’s public advocate Letitia James and the New York Post in seeking the disclosure of the grand jury’s records.
     With a Staten Island judge and an intermediate appeals court shooting them down, however, the NYCLU took to the New York Court of Appeals on Tuesday, saying the changes that the Garner grand jury inspired make it important for the public to understand what happened.
     “The question at the heart of this case is whether New York’s statutory presumption in favor of grand jury secrecy should erect an impenetrable barrier to transparency where, as here, there are extraordinary and compelling interests that support disclosure of grand jury materials,” the 20-page filing says.
     The NYCLU’s legal director Arthur Eisenberg echoed that sentiment in a statement.
     “Without understanding how or why the grand jury reached its decision, major policy discussions on grand jury reform with potentially lasting implications are taking place blindly,” Eisenberg said. “So much is at stake regarding criminal justice reform in this case that the public’s need to know what happened outweighs any current interest in maintaining the secrecy of the Garner proceedings.”
     After the grand jury’s decision in December, thousands spilled onto the city’s streets, highways, bridges, and tunnels chanting Garner’s final words “I can’t breathe.”
     Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that many New Yorker’s “did not want” Pantaleo to escape indictment, and state legislators soon felt pressure to channel that backlash toward reform.
     The Republican prosecutor who oversaw Garner’s case now represents the conservative borough and the southern tip of Brooklyn in Congress.

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