Appeal for Eric Garner grand jury minutes denied, but not the end

The Staten Island attorneys argue release of the minutes could raise more questions.

A panel of appellate court judges voted Wednesday not to release the grand jury minutes of the Garner case, upholding an earlier Staten Island court ruling and creating another hurdle for Public Advocate Letitia James, the New York Civil Liberties Union and several other parties that have been lobbying on behalf of disclosure.

The appeal in June to the Appellate Division in Brooklyn came three months after the initial petition was denied.

The organizations fighting for the release argued the minutes could help inform public discussion, but the Staten Island assistant district attorney warned it would only raise more questions.

James said she will continue to fight to get the transcripts released.

“We continue to believe in the legal and moral case that we have put forward, and will be immediately appealing the decision,” James said in a statement. “We will not give up on our quest for justice and transparency. The public deserves to know what happened with that grand jury and why what we saw with our eyes did not match the failure to indict those responsible for Eric Garner’s death.”

In their decision, the appellate judges said the grand jury minutes “could negatively interfere with” the ongoing federal investigation into Garner’s death.

“Despite the intense public interest in this case, which this Court recognizes, the Supreme Court properly determined that the appellants’ reasons do not constitute a compelling and particularized need for disclosure of the requested grand jury materials,” the decision reads. “In addition, the appellants have failed to demonstrate that relevant information cannot be obtained from sources other than the grand jury minutes to permit lawmakers to fashion legislation, if appropriate, concerning reform of the grand jury process and police practices.”

The NYCLU said it will also appeal the ruling.

“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,” NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg said in a statement. “In order to address such issues it is important to know how and why the grand jury reached the decision that it did.”

A spokesman for the DA’s office declined to comment Wednesday.

During her testimony in June, Staten Island ADA Anne Grady said releasing the minutes would not inform any debate.

Garner, 43, died July, 17 2014, after Staten Island Officer Daniel Pantaleo held him in an apparent chokehold while trying to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. A special grand jury convened by then-Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan voted not to indict Pantaleo in December after nine weeks of deliberations.

Shortly after that decision, a judge released limited information about the grand jury, including that there were 50 witnesses and 60 exhibits presented.

Alison Fox