Eric Garner’s family leaving the Staten Island Supreme Court. Photo courtesy NYCLU on Twitter
NEW YORK — A New York state judge heard arguments on Thursday over whether to release records from the grand jury investigation into the death of Eric Garner, the 43-year old unarmed black man who died this summer after being put into a chokehold by a white police officer.
Christopher Pisciotta, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society, argued to Justice William Garnett that the “public questioned the fairness” of the way evidence was presented to the grand jury by the office of Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan. In early December, the grand jury declined to indict New York City Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner’s death — a decision that sparked protests across the city and the country.
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – JANUARY 15: Protesters hold banners and shout slogans at the outside of the 120th Police Precinct Station, during a demonstration continues with a candlelight vigil in memory of the Eric Garner, died in New York’s Staten Island on 17th of July 2014 after a police officer put him in a chokehold due to an incident, in New York City, NY, United States on January 15, 2015. After the incident, grand jury had not charged the New York City police officer. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/A | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The Legal Aid Society acts as the city’s primary public defender. Pisciotta said that when his group’s clients face grand jury investigations, the proceedings generally last only a few days, and involve just a few witnesses. But the grand jury investigation into Pantaleo’s conduct, Pisciotta noted, lasted nine weeks and involved testimony from 50 witnesses.
“There is a perception that Officer Pantaleo was treated differently,” Pisciotta said. The attorney argued that releasing the grand jury records — which are typically sealed — would help the public determine whether Pantaleo received special treatment.