What did the Staten Island prosecutor say to the grand jurors to make them decide that Police Officer Pantaleo had committed no crime at all when there’s a video showing him choking an unarmed man to death? Nobody knows, because grand jury proceedings in New York are produced, directed and scripted by the DA’s Office under cover of what courts approvingly call “jealously guarded” secrecy.
Take 23 people off the street, lock them up for weeks with an authority figure who dictates what facts and law they can consider, assures them of anonymity and lets them know the desired result – and surprise! at least 12 of them will do what they’re told.
The Staten Island DA – an elected official – seems a teeny bit concerned that even conservatives think the grand jury verdict in Eric Garner’s death is, in the words of George W. Bush, “hard to understand.” So the DA asked the court’s permission to release “certain limited information” about the grand jury proceedings which, as the court observed without apparent irony, “has already been widely reported in the media.” See grand jury decision.
Considering how prosecutors distort the law even in appellate briefs, we can just imagine how they explain it to a grand jury, knowing that the defense will never know what was said. Here, it was probably something like, “A cop has the right to use deadly physical force if he’s really sorry afterwards.” It’s easy to make fun of grand jurors, but it’s the prosecutors who all but dictate the verdict. Criminal proceedings and secrecy don’t mix.