Grand jury testimony in the chokehold death of Eric Garner will not be released because there was no "compelling reason" to publish the documents, a Staten Island judge ruled on Thursday in response to a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The NYCLU in December petitioned the court to release testimony, evidence, and the instructions given to the jury that ultimately cleared NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo of any wrongdoing in Garner's death, which was ruled a homicide due to compression of neck and chest in a police brutality incident captured on video last July. The grand jury's decision not to indict Pantaleo fueled ongoing civil rights protests against racial profiling and police brutality.
"The failure to indict the officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner has left many wondering if black lives even matter. Sadly, today’s decision will only leave many asking that same question again."
—Dana Lieberman, NYCLU"The outcome of grand jury proceeding has left many questions as to whether secret grand jury proceedings are instruments of injustice and whether the grand jury system should be abolished," NYCLU's motion stated. "The Garner grand jury is central to that public discussion. And it is important to that conversation for the public to know how and why the grand jury reached the conclusions that it did."
Judge William Garnett disagreed. "What would they use the minutes for?" he wrote in his decision (pdf) on Thursday. "The only answer which the court heard was the possibility of effecting legislative change. That proffered need is purely speculative and does not satisfy the requirements of the law."
Following the ruling, NYCLU legal director Arthur Eisenberg released a statement criticizing the court's decision to "perpetuate secrecy rather than promote transparency."
"In doing so, the court has reinforced the distrust many New Yorkers already feel toward the performance of the criminal justice system in this case," Eisenberg said. "Under the law, there is a presumption in favor of grand jury secrecy. But that presumption is not absolute. The court has the discretion to order disclosure under compelling circumstances which were certainly present here."
NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman added, "The failure to indict the officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner has left many wondering if black lives even matter. Sadly, today’s decision will only leave many asking that same question again."