After Eric Garner case, 2 N.Y. legislators want to make grand jury evidence public

After Eric Garner case, 2 N.Y. legislators want to make grand jury evidence public
Protesters gather in New York over a grand jury's decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island. Video showed the officer putting Garner, who had been selling loose cigarettes, in an apparent choke hold, a move banned by the city's police department. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Following a grand jury's decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, two New York legislators said Friday they plan to introduce a bill that would force prosecutors to release grand jury proceedings.

In a statement published on her Facebook page Friday afternoon, State Sen. Diane Savino said the bill would require New York prosecutors to publicize transcripts of witness testimony and other evidence presented to a grand jury without a judge's consent.


Assemblyman Matthew Titone joined Savino in calling for the new law.

"Since Wednesday we have seen an overwhelming outcry about the lack of transparency surrounding the Eric Garner case; both lawmakers and citizens feel that this needs to be changed," Savino said in her statement.
On Thursday, Richmond County Dist. Atty. Daniel Donovan asked for and received a judge's permission to release limited information about the grand jury proceedings in Garner's death. Garner died after a struggle with a New York City police officer in Staten Island. Video of the struggle showed the officer putting Garner in an apparent choke hold, a move banned by New York City's police department.

The court allowed Donovan to disclose the type of evidence reviewed by the grand jury and the number of witnesses who testified. But transcripts of witness testimony, Garner's autopsy report, the exact charges Donovan pursued against Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo and other critical information remains secret.

In a later interview with the Los Angeles Times, Savino said the bill would force prosecutors to make all information connected to a grand jury presentation public, eliminating law enforcement from the decision process.

"We believe it should be made public upon the completion of the grand jury, because if you allow the prosecutors to have discretion, then you run into the same problem you had in this case," Savino said.

Many have criticized Donovan for the limited application, a stark contrast to St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch's decision to release all the evidence presented to a grand jury that considered charges against Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown.

Savino said the bill will likely be introduced by next week, and the state legislature returns to session in January. Since criminal trials in New York are open to the public, Savino said she sees no reason for grand jury proceedings to be secret.

"If that grand jury had returned an indictment, that criminal trial in New York is completely transparent," Savino said. "There's a definite inconsistency in this approach."

Both killings were part of a wave of police-involved shootings that have sparked nationwide protests and ignited a conversation on race and law enforcement policy.

“There is no reason the public should be denied the opportunity to view information presented after the grand jury has made its final recommendations," Savino, whose district includes part of Staten Island, said in a statement. "Whenever you have a case like that of Eric Garner, it is important that people can still trust in the legal system. The only way to do that is with complete transparency of the facts presented.”

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