NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — An appeals court says the public can’t see the testimony a grand jury heard before declining to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

A state Supreme Court Appellate Division panel ruled Wednesday. A lower court judge declined in March to release the testimony, citing longstanding principles of grand jury secrecy.

City Public Advocate Letitia James and legal groups said they’ll appeal and keep fighting to make the information public.

They say people need a clearer view of how grand jurors reached their decision in a case that ignited widespread protests about police conduct.

“Secrecy breeds suspicion, and sunshine really is the best disinfectant,” James said in May.

Garner died on July 17, 2014, in a controversial confrontation caught on cellphone video with police on Staten Island. In December, a grand jury declined to indict NYPD officer involved, Daniel Pantaleo, and protests erupted on city streets.

Civil liberties lawyers had argued that the public needed to reconcile the widely watched video of the Garner arrest with the decision not to indict the cop involved.

The argument to release the material did not meet what is called a “particularized need,” WCBS’ 880 Peter Haskell reported.

Donna Liberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union disagrees.

“Why is there not a particularized need to release what the witnesses said,” Liberman asked. “Not their names, but what they said.”

Liberman says this is about confidence in the legal system.


“It’s a triumph of secrecy over justice,” Liberman said.

But during oral arguments in May, Justice John Leventhal asked NYCLU attorney Arthur Eisenberg why he wanted to look at just one grand jury to change the whole system, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.

“Why aren’t we looking at a number of grand juries, how the grand jury works?” Leventhal asked. “More information is better than less. And I think what has happened here is that the Garner grand jury and the perception of unfairness has driven the conversation.”

The Staten Island district attorney’s office argued against releasing the information, noting that grand jurors and witnesses expect confidentiality.

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