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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Staten Island Bias Asserted in Eric Garner Records Fight

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (CN) - The fight for records about the grand jury that studied the fatal police chokehold of Eric Garner belongs in another borough, one group told the court Thursday.

James Meyerson, an attorney with the Staten Island branch of the NAACP, said Richmond County Supreme Court Justice William Garnett should punt the case because he is part of the same legal system in the tight-knit community of Staten Island.

"This system has been compromised," Meyerson said. "It needs to be set somewhere else so there can be some justice."

The NAACP is one of five groups that appeared at the Thursday hearing less than a mile from where Garner died, demanding access to the sealed transcripts on the grand jury that refused to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner's July 17, 2014, death.

Footage of the altercation, capturing 43-year-old Garner passing out after gasping "I can't breathe" 11 times, went viral. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

Protests took hold of the city in the weeks after the grand jury that investigated the case for nine weeks voted in December 2014 to take no action against the Pantaleo.

Joining the NAACP in Judge Garnett's packed courtroom on Thursday were attorneys for the New York City Public Advocate, the Legal Aid Society, the New York City Liberties Union, and the New York Post.

Christopher Pisciotta with the Legal Aid Society said the grand jury records should be released "in the interest of trust in the grand jury process."

The New York Post's attorney Alison Schary meanwhile told the court that the media has a right to view the documents to inform readers about this "major event."

Appeasing a public hungry for answers was also the argument of Matthew Brinckerhoff, an attorney representing New York City's Public Advocate Leticia James.

"Many people have reached very firm opinions about what happened outside the storefront that day, and cannot understand how it is that there was no indictment by the grand jury," Brinckerhoff said.

NYCLU attorney Arthur Eisenberg echoed this point.

"We ought to know how and why the grand jury reached the decision that it reached," Eisenberg said.

Assistant District Attorney Anne Grady meanwhile urged the judge to keep the documents secret to protect the identities of the 23 jurors and the 50 witnesses who testified.

"It will do maximum damage to the states' ability to obtain witnesses," Grady said. "We all know the adage, they know the adage: Snitches get stitches."

Grady also worried that the release of the documents will encourage "Monday-morning quarterbacking" of the proceedings.

Richmond County Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rooney refused in December to unseal transcripts of the witness testimony and any of the more than 60 exhibits.

He handed the matter of whether to open the transcripts to Judge Garnett, who did not make a ruling Thursday after the three-hour hearing.

A handful of protesters braved the bone-chilling winds and flurries outside the courthouse before the hearing, many of them holding signs that said "Justice for Garner" and "Release the records."

"It's critical that the public get to see what the grand jury did," said Bill Dobbs who represented New Yorkers for Garner Grand Jury Sunshine. "There is huge mistrust now."

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