Judge Cracks a Penlight on Staten Island Grand Jury

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Citing uncertain “public confidence” in the criminal-justice system, a Staten Island judge agreed Thursday to document certain already reported details about the grand jury proceedings in the fatal chokehold of Eric Garner.
     The four-page order comes upon the sealed request of Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan Jr. for the release “certain limited information regarding the conduct of the grand jury proceedings” at issue.
     Not on the table for release were transcripts of grand jury testimony or exhibits, Richmond County Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rooney noted.
     Though “most of the material [Donovan] seeks to publicly disclose has already been widely reported in the media,” Rooney said confidentiality issues remain.
     Nevertheless the court found that Donovan satisfied the burden of his request.
     “Somewhat uniquely in this matter, the maintenance of trust in our criminal justice system lies at the heart of these proceedings, with implications affecting the continuing vitality of our core beliefs in fairness, and impartiality, at a crucial moment in our nation’s history, where public confidence in the even-handed application of these core values among a diverse citizenry is being questioned,” Rooney wrote. “It is from this vantage point that a limited incursion in to the sacrosanct principle of grand jury secrecy is deemed necessary to serve overarching public interest.”
     Rooney’s order offers the barest of glimpses into the decision a day earlier by a grand jury on Staten Island not to indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner’s death on July 17, 2014.
     A gut-wrenching video of the fatal chokehold on YouTube shows police trying to arrest 43-year-old Garner on suspicion of selling bootleg cigarettes near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.
     Pantaleo takes Garner down with a chokehold, and other officers pile on as Garner gasps, at least nine times before passing out, “I can’t breathe.”
     A medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, and the no-indictment news sparked protest around the city, as well as promises of federal intervention.
     Rooney’s order discloses that the grand jury sat for nine weeks, poring over 60 exhibits and testimony from dozens of witnesses.
     From 50 total witnesses, 28 were police officers, emergency medical personnel and doctors, Rooney added. The other 22 witnesses were civilians.
     Evidence included four videos, “records regarding NYPD policies and procedures, medical records pertaining to the treatment of the deceased, photographs of the scene, autopsy photographs and records pertaining to NYPD training,” the order states.
     “The grand jury was instructed on relevant principles of law, including Penal Law [section] 35.30 regarding a police officer’s use of physical force in making an arrest,” it continues.
     Rooney kept the district attorney’s application under seal.

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