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Redactions in Attica report ‘sort of like throwing gasoline on a fire’

ALBANY – The amount of information from the Meyer investigation still being kept secret is all but certain to keep alive a long, divisive debate – involving troopers, guards, inmates and their families – over the public’s need to know versus the rights of individuals who cooperated or testified at the time believing that what they said would remain private.

Jonathan E. Gradess, an Albany lawyer who represents the Forgotten Victims of Attica, a group whose members include employees during the Attica siege and their family members, called for full disclosure of the Meyer report. The group, which has pressed for years for release of the Meyer report and other documents, did not see a copy of the newly released volumes. A Buffalo News reporter described to Gradess the level of redaction.

Gradess said that any feeling of closure cannot occur for families connected to Attica employees held hostage or killed during the siege. “I think the redaction actually opens it up even more. … It’s sort of like throwing gasoline on a fire,” Gradess said.

Another lawyer involved in Attica litigation agreed.

“I believe it’s wonderful they released Meyer. It’s time they release everything else,” said Liz Fink, a New York City lawyer, who for nearly 30 years represented inmates who were at Attica at the time of the riot and the prison’s retaking after four days. In its wake, 43 people died, including 10 guards, all but four killed by law enforcement during the storming of the facility ordered by then-Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.

Seeking full disclosure

Fink is one of the few who have read the entire Meyer report, including the now-redacted portions, and she said the state needs to release not only the remaining passages from the Meyer probe, but films that state officials made during and after the siege, statements by state troopers and other transcripts.

“They still don’t want to tell what happened. I believe they should put out Volumes II and III. What it will show is that the prosecution was skewed,” Fink said of the state investigation at the time into allegations of brutality by law enforcement after the siege ended.

Volumes II and III have been locked in the state attorney general’s regional office in downtown Buffalo.

But in 2013, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman went to a state court in Wyoming County to unseal the remaining volumes.

“It is important, both for families directly affected and for future generations, that these historical documents be made available so the public can have a better understanding of what happened and how we can prevent future tragedies,” Schneiderman said at the time.

Kept secret for decades

The state kept the papers secret over the years, a decision backed up by court rulings in 1977 and 1981.

State Supreme Court Justice Patrick H. NeMoyer, the judge who last year approved the unsealing of portions of the volumes, did not review in advance what Schneiderman’s office released Thursday. The task of redacting information about grand jury evidence from the 1970s was left up to Schneiderman’s office. Schneiderman is turning over the newly released documents to the state archives.

More than 500 inmates at Attica in 1971, or their families, in 2000 were awarded $8 million by a judge following years of litigation. Fink, the New York City lawyer who spent three decades representing Attica inmates, in an interview this week said the release of the redacted Volumes II and III of the Meyer report should serve to prod interested groups to continue to seek release of all remaining Attica material.

Fink said she is doing her part – negotiating with New York University to turn over all the material she has assembled and make it public at the NYU library in 2016. “This is my 29 years’ worth of legal work,” she said “… I have a lot.”