A New York judge has revealed “certain limited details” about the grand jury proceedings that led to police Officer Daniel Pantaleo not being indicted in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. The grand jury, which ultimately decided not to charge Pantaleo for Garner’s death in July, met for nine weeks, heard testimony from 50 witnesses and considered 60 exhibits admitted as evidence, including four videos, according to a ruling released Thursday by Richmond County Supreme Court Judge Hon. Stephen J. Rooney.
Among the witnesses who testified before the grand jury were 22 civilians and 28 police officers, doctors and emergency responders. The jury considered, among other things, Garner’s medical records, photographs from the scene where the incident took place, autopsy photographs and records pertaining to New York Police Department policies and procedures, according to the judge’s ruling.
The jury was specifically instructed to consider New York Penal Code 35.30, which relates to the use of physical force by police officers when making an arrest. The law says that an officer can use physical force on a person whom “he or she reasonably believes to have committed an offense” to effect an arrest or prevent an escape. Pantaleo has been widely criticized for putting Garner in a chokehold while arresting him for selling cigarettes on the street illegally, a move that partly led to Garner’s death due to “compression of the neck.”
Richmond County District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan indicated Wednesday that he would seek the court’s permission to release the details of the grand jury proceedings, including transcripts, but the judge decided that much of the information should remained sealed. “In the opinion of the court, such confidentiality must be ensured if the grand jury is to continue to be effective in investigating allegations of … grave misconduct, whether by public officials or private individuals,” Rooney wrote.
“Somewhat uniquely in this matter, the maintenance of trust in our criminal justice system lies at the heart of these proceedings, with implications affecting the continuing vitality of our core beliefs in fairness, and impartiality, at a crucial moment in the nation’s history,” he noted. “It is from this vantage point that a limited incursion in the sacrosanct principle of grand jury secrecy is deemed necessary to serve overarching public interest.”
Garner, 43, died July 15 in Staten Island. Video footage captured Pantaleo choking Garner, who repeatedly told officers he could not breathe. In the video, Garner appears to pass out. He ultimately died of a heart attack in an ambulance on the way to a hospital. His death resulted in widespread protests over what many said was an excessive use of force on the part of the officer.