A New York state judge released select information about the secret proceedings leading up to a Staten Island grand jury’s controversial refusal to bring charges against police officer Daniel Pantaleo for the chokehold death of Eric Garner, reports the New York Law Journal. Acting Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rooney disclosed that grand jurors heard from 50 witnesses, weighed 60 exhibits, including four videos, and were instructed on legal principles including an officer’s use of force. “Somewhat uniquely in this matter, the maintenance of trust in our criminal justice system lies at the heart of these proceedings,” Rooney said. “It is from this vantage point that a limited incursion into the sacrosanct principles of grand jury secrecy is deemed necessary to serve overarching public interest.”
The Legal Aid Society, which represented Garner in a number of minor offenses before his death, is filing a motion to unseal the entirety of the grand jury proceedings. Garner, 43, died after a scuffle that broke out July 17 as officers tried to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. Pataleo’s lawyer and police union officials argued that the grand jury got it right, saying the officer used an authorized takedown move—not a banned chokehold—against a man who was resisting arrest. They said Garner’s poor health was the main cause of his death. Federal prosecutors will conduct their own investigation of Garner’s death, but federal civil rights cases against police officers are “exceedingly rare,” the Journal said.