Two Staten Island lawmakers to introduce grand jury transparency bill

Khorri Atkinson | 12/19/2014, 4:05 p.m.
Two weeks after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the chokehold death ...
Eric Garner, Innocent father choked to death by NYPD on July 17.

Two weeks after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the chokehold death of Eric Garner, two lawmakers have announced plans to introduce legislation that would require district attorneys to publicly release testimonies and evidence presented to grand juries.

State Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Matthew Titone, both Democrats who represent Staten Island, said the bill will allow “greater transparency” while still protecting the anonymity of the grand jury process.

“We have seen an overwhelming outcry about the lack of transparency surrounding the Eric Garner case,” said Savino in a statement. “There is no reason the public should be denied the opportunity to view information presented after the grand jury has made its final recommendations. It is important that people can still trust in the legal system.”

The senator argued that it’s crucial for people to trust the legal system, but the only way for this to happen, she said, “is with complete transparency of the facts presented.”

“This would address the widespread frustration of many in the public who seek a better understanding of how the grand jury reaches their decisions,” she added.

Under state law, district attorneys are prohibited from releasing information about a grand jury proceeding. However, they could file a petition to disclose information.

A day after the Dec. 3 “no indictment” decision, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, did seek authorization from a state judge to publicly release specific elements of the grand jury proceedings. The information disclosed only included the number of witnesses who testified and the expert who spoke. The transcripts of witnesses testimonies, Garner’s autopsy report, the charges the jury considered against Pantaleo and other key information about the proceedings are concealed.

Donovan’s move triggered more tension on top of the existing nationwide outcry about the outcome of Garner’s case. Many elected officials nationwide questioned why no charges were filed against the officer, because Garner’s altercation with the police was caught on camera.

Two of the four videos the grand jury reviewed show that the asthmatic 43-year-old could be heard saying to officers, “I can’t breathe!” The others revealed that officers and emergency medical responders stood over Garner’s lifeless body at least seven minutes before assisting him.

Multiple reports said Donovan did not ask the grand jury to consider a reckless endangerment charge against the officer. He only asked them to consider manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges.

Titone criticized Donovan for the limited information he released. He said the way the case was handled underlines that reforms should be enacted.

“We recognize and fully appreciate the need to protect witnesses and jurors in the grand jury process.” he said. “However the public trust and confidence in our justice system must be addressed and reforms implemented. The Eric Garner case clearly demonstrates this.”

The NYPD is convening an internal review of the case, Police Commissioner William Bratton said. And outgoing U.S. Attorney Eric Holder said the Department of Justice has launched a federal probe.