Civil Rights Attorneys Still Fighting to Open Grand Jury Records in Eric Garner Case

eric garner 1By Manny Otiko

Eric Garner was killed by the police almost a year ago, but the case is still sparking controversy. Garner’s death from an illegal chokehold performed by New York Police officer Daniel Pantaleo, became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. A group of civil rights lawyers is currently battling to have records from the grand jury that declined to prosecute Pantaleo released to the public.

According to The Guardian, lawyers recently asked a panel of four New York appellate court judges to open the grand jury records.

“Attorneys asking for a complete public accounting of the case—basics have been disclosed, evidence has not—asked a panel of four justices at the New York State supreme court’s appellate division to reverse a decision that the grand jury details should not be released,” The Guardian reported.

James Myerson, an attorney representing the NAACP, accused Daniel Donovan, former Staten Island district attorney, of being reluctant to file charges against police officers who worked closely with him on cases. Myerson told Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi, “If [Donavan] wanted an indictment, he could have gotten one in a New York minute.”

New York Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel also accused Donovan of protecting the officers. Speaking to The New York Times, Donavan, a republican who has now been elected to Congress, defended his record on the Garner case.

“Mr. Donovan, 58, was unapologetic about the outcome and fiercely defensive of his record as an officer of the law,” said New York Times writer Alexander Burn. “He did not conceal his frustration that his reputation has been transformed because of a racially divisive legal battle. Still, he said he understood the public outrage over the decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer seen placing Mr. Garner in a chokehold.”

Previously, judges had argued it was important to keep the records sealed to protect the privacy of the jury.

The Guardian wrote, “Disclosure is opposed by the district attorney’s office, which argued that releasing the grand jury record would not lead to new answers, and would have a ‘chilling effect’ on witnesses, who are promised anonymity, and even prosecutors, who might feel pressure from the public to deliver a certain result if secrecy was no longer sacrosanct.”

Eric Garner and his wife

Eric Garner and his wife

Ann Grady, a prosecutor from the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office, said releasing the grand jury records could lead to jurors being targeted. However, Myerson pointed out that after grand jury records were released in the shooting of Michel Brown, witnesses were not targeted. Justice Leonard Austin also added the petitioners seeking the release of the records had requested all the names of the witnesses be redacted.

Garner’s altercation with police was captured on video and was widely shown around the world. The video was shot on a cell phone by Ramsey Orta, who knew Garner from the neighborhood. According to The New York Times, Orta—now facing gun and drug charges—is currently in jail in Rikers Island, where he fears being poisoned. According to VICE, Orta claims his family has been harassed and threatened by police for videotaping the Garner arrest.

VICE said the case against Orta depends on evidence from a series of undercover videos. The police seemed determined to carry out revenge on Orta for producing damning evidence against them. The prosecution’s case hinges on nine videos of Orta or his family members allegedly interacting with undercover police.

“He took the video,” an anonymous police source gloated to the New York Daily News. “Now we took the video.”

But Orta’s lawyers claim the videos are heavily edited, show no drugs being exchanged, and even have altered time stamps,” said VICE writer Molly Crabapple.

Back to top