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Partial release of long-sealed report on Attica prison riot OK’d by state judge

A judge has ruled that the state attorney general can release a sealed report on how the state handled the Attica prison uprising more than four decades ago, a report locked away in a secure room in a Buffalo office building.

But the judge said the attorney general must exclude all references to grand jury evidence in the report on the September 1971 riot and its aftermath at the state prison in Wyoming County.

The first volume of the Meyer Report was released when it was completed in 1975, but the final two volumes have not been released because they contain confidential grand jury testimony by troopers and others involved in retaking the prison.

State Supreme Court Justice Patrick H. NeMoyer said there is no legal principle “that precludes the attorney general from publicly disclosing” the portions of the second and third volumes that do not refer to grand jury evidence.

While the judge excluded the publication of references to grand jury evidence, he said it is up to the attorney general to decide whether to redact the names and other identifying information about grand jury witnesses and subjects that do not directly refer to grand jury evidence.

The judge rejected the attorney general’s request that the court set up and supervise a procedure for people affected by the disclosure of the final two volumes to review the redacted versions and express their views on the redactions before the volumes are publicly released.

He said the attorney general can do that on his own.

A spokesman for Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who had moved to release the final two volumes on the nation’s worst prison riot to the public because of their historical significance, called the ruling a step forward.

“As we have consistently said, we appreciate the need to balance the public interest in understanding events surrounding Attica and ensuring we can prevent future tragedies on the one hand with the need to protect the secrecy of grand jury proceedings on the other,” Damien LaVera said. “Our office will review the court’s order to determine how best to move forward with releasing the redacted version of the report.”

The Attica uprising began shortly after 9 a.m. Sept. 9, 1971, and ended four days later with hundreds of shots fired by state police and National Guard members.

It left 43 people dead, including 10 guards, and 89 seriously wounded. All but four were killed by police, guards and soldiers in an action ordered by then-Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.

The three-volume report by Bernard S. Meyer, a Long Island lawyer and former state judge, found many disturbing errors in how the state handled the siege and aftermath, but no evidence of an intentional coverup by Attica prosecutors.

State judges in 1977 and 1981 sealed about 350 pages of the report because they contained mostly grand jury testimony.

Former prison guards and family members of victims of the prison riot have wanted to read the sealed volumes since the report was completed, hoping that will bring more closure.

News Staff Reporter Matt Gryta contributed to this report. email: