Eric Garner grand jury minutes to stay private, New York court rules

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 29, 2015 5:23 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York state court on Wednesday declined to release details of a grand jury investigation that led to a police officer being cleared of wrongdoing in the death of Eric Garner after his chokehold arrest in Staten Island in July last year.

Lawyers for civil rights groups and New York's public advocate office in June called for the release of the grand jury minutes including transcripts of testimony, exhibits and details of certain grand jurors to better understand the decision not to charge officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner's death.

Garner was black and Pantaleo is white, and the case caused widespread protests last year.

The lawyers did not establish a compelling reason for disclosure of the minutes, the appellate division of New York State's Supreme Court said on Wednesday.

"The public interest in preserving grand jury secrecy outweighed the public interest in disclosure," the ruling said.

Concerns about the safety of grand jurors and the potential to compromise an ongoing federal investigation into the incident were also cited as reasons not to release the details.

Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, was illegally selling cigarettes in New York's Staten Island on July 17 last year when police officers including Pantaleo tackled him to the ground and put him in a chokehold. The city's medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

The arrest was caught on video, including Garner's repeated pleas for the officers to release him, telling them he could not breath.

New York City earlier this month agreed to pay Garner's family $5.9 million to resolve the claim over his death.

The grand jury decision not to charge Pantaleo was met with protests and rallies in December. It came just one week after a grand jury in Missouri decided not to indict a white police officer in another racially charged killing of a black man.

The decision in that case sparked a spasm of violence in Ferguson, Missouri, with businesses burned and looted.

(Reporting by Edward McAllister; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)