By Colleen Long And Tom Hays
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK _ Testimony heard by a grand jury that declined to indict a white New York City police officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed African-American man will not be released, a judge said Thursday, 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 prosecutors to release the grand jury transcript, including the testimony of the officer involved, Daniel Pantaleo, and dozens of witnesses, detailed descriptions of evidence and other documentation. A similar step was voluntarily taken by the prosecutor in Ferguson, Missouri, when a grand jury there refused to indict an officer in the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, also an unarmed African-American.
The deaths of Brown and Garner and the lack of indictments in their cases sparked nationwide protests about the treatment of minorities by law enforcement and a debate about the role of race in policing.
Civil liberties lawyers had argued that the public needed to reconcile the widely watched video of the arrest with the decision not to indict the officer involved.
But State Supreme Court Justice William Garnett wrote that the law required the New York Civil Liberties Union and the other parties who brought the lawsuit to establish a “compelling and particularized need” to release the grand jury minutes.
Donovan argued that the disclosure would damage the credibility of prosecutors seeking to assure both grand jurors and witnesses that details of their participation would be kept from public view. Following the grand jury’s decision, Donovan asked for some information to be made public, but it didn’t include testimony or exhibits shown to jurors.
Pantaleo and other officers stopped Garner on July 17 on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. A video shot by an onlooker and widely watched online shows Garner telling the officers to leave him alone and refusing to be handcuffed.
Pantaleo responded by wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck in what he said was a sanctioned takedown move and not a banned chokehold. The heavyset Garner, who had asthma, is heard on the tape gasping, “I can’t breathe.” He later was pronounced dead at a hospital.