In response to the Appellate Division, Second Department’s decision to keep secret records from the Grand Jury which failed to indict an NYPD officer in the death of Eric Garner, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued the following statement.
“The New York Civil Liberties Union is going to appeal this decision,” said NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg. “We argued that disclosure of the Grand Jury records is necessary to inform the community and its representatives in the legislature and allow for an informed debate regarding the issue of Grand Jury reform in cases involving lethal behavior by police officers. The governor and the legislature have been considering how to address the problem of alleged misbehavior by police officers and the apparent conflict that arises when a district attorney is called upon to prosecute the police. In order to address such issues it is important to know how and why the Grand Jury reached the decision that it did. The Eric Garner case presented a special circumstance for Grand Jury disclosure to advance the need of an informed electorate. The court’s opinion didn’t even consider that crucial question.”
The NYCLU in December petitioned a Staten Island court to release to the public the Grand Jury’s transcript, as well as the evidence presented and instructions the jury was given. In March, Judge William E. Garnett rejected the request from the NYCLU, as well as requests from the Legal Aid Society, the public advocate’s office and the NAACP. The NYCLU appealed this decision last May.
“The need for transparency to ensure fairness remains paramount,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The appointment of a special prosecutor is an important step but it is neither permanent nor sufficient. When a Grand Jury makes a decision about whether or not to indict an officer in the killing of a New Yorker, the public has a right to know why. There is a deep and well-founded suspicion of the criminal justice system partly because no one has been accountable for the death of Eric Garner and the community doesn’t know why.”