A judge on Thursday refused to release testimony heard by a grand jury that declined to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, arguing there wasn’t a good enough reason to make the secret information public.
Civil liberties groups had asked the court to order Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan to release the grand jury transcript, including the testimony of the officer involved and dozens of witnesses, along with detailed descriptions of evidence. A similar step was voluntarily taken by the prosecutor in Ferguson when a grand jury refused to indict an officer in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
Both Garner and Brown were black; the officers involved are white. The deaths sparked nationwide protests.
New York laws explicitly bars disclosure of grand jury data absent a court order.
But civil liberties lawyers had argued that the public needs to reconcile the decision with the widely watched video of Garner’s July death.
But State Supreme Court Justice William Garnett agreed with arguments by Donovan’s office that secrecy was needed to assure witnesses would not be subjected to public criticism.
“This concern is particularly cogent in ‘high publicity cases’ where the witnesses’ truthful and accurate testimony is vital,” Garnett wrote. “It is in such notorious cases that witnesses’ cooperation and honesty should be encouraged — not discouraged — for fear of disclosure.”