New York City

Delay in hearing to release Eric Garner grand jury records

Judicial Recusal and Chance of Settlement

December 22, 2014 By Charisma L. Troiano, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Security personnel stand outside Richmond County Supreme Court after a grand jury's decision not to indict a New York police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner on Dec. 3 in Staten Island. Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Rooney announced last week that he will remove himself from all Garner-related proceedings. AP Photo/John Minchillo
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A public hearing scheduled for Dec. 19 on the petition to release the Eric Garner grand jury records has been delayed because the presiding judge has recused himself from all proceedings. The Staten Island judge cited concerns that his wife’s employment may cause an appearance of impropriety.   

Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Rooney announced last week that he will remove himself from all Garner-related proceedings since his wife, Kathryn K. Rooney, is a board chairwoman of the hospital Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC).

Emergency care workers from RUMC responded to the calls for Garner, who died after NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed Garner into a chokehold. The chokehold and response immediately succeeding were captured on cellphone video. 

The two Fire Department Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) and two RUMC paramedics who responded to Garner were suspended after video showed that the emergency care workers only took Garner’s pulse and did not appear to provide any further life-saving measures to Garner’s unresponsive body.

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The city’s Medical Examiner has ruled Garner’s death a homicide resulting from a chokehold.

Due to his wife’s connection to the hospital employing the two paramedics, Rooney believed that it would be proper to remove himself before the release of the grand jury minutes was ruled on.

“[The] decision by Judge Stephen Rooney to recuse himself due to what he described as a potential appearance of impropriety raises more questions than answers,” Public Advocate Letitia James said in a released statement. James and public interest groups, including Brooklyn based VOCAL-NY, have petitioned for the release of the Garner grand jury records.

A spokesperson for the New York state court system asserts that the timing of Rooney’s decision to recuse himself is not remarkable and that there was no reason for an earlier recusal action. 

“The conflict doesn’t arise until there is a request for the minutes themselves,” David Bookstaver explained.

As of date, the only roles Rooney has played in the Garner proceedings has been to swear in the grand jurors and order the release of some case information.

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan requested and Rooney ordered the release of partial information immediately following the decision of the grand jury to not indict Pantaleo in relation to Garner’s death. The grand jury minutes were not released.

The public hearing on oral arguments to release the records was postponed following Rooney’s recusal. A new judge will be assigned with a hearing likely slated for January 2015.

“[Rooney’s recusal] further underscores the need to release the grand jury minutes related to the investigation of Eric Garner’s death. Thousands of New Yorkers are marching because they believe justice was not served. The only way to restore the public’s faith in our justice system is to bring sunlight into the court system,” James added.

CBS News further reports that the Garner family attorney, Jonathan Moore, is willing to sit down with the city to discuss a potential wrongful death settlement. The police department has headed calls to police reform, including body-worn cameras and additional training. As previously reported in the Eagle, Brooklyn’s own 75th Precinct has started training with police body cameras (see for more information).

The two FDNY EMT workers are in the process of being reinstated, but have remained barred from the 911 system and have been reassigned to RUMC on a non-clinical basis, a hospital spokesperson confirmed to SI Live.  The two paramedics from RUMC who were also suspended have been, as of October, cleared by the FDNY and working in the 911 system.

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