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.
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.
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