Partial disclosure of Attica uprising documentation not enough, advocates say

May 8, 2014 – It is still the bloodiest prison uprising in U.S. history. The 1971 rebellion by inmates in the Attica Correctional Institution saw guards taken hostage, negotiations with state officials fail and the state police called in by Governor Nelson Rockefeller—a decision that led to the deaths of 43 people. Last month, State Supreme Court Justice Patrick NeMoyer agreed to a partial release of Attica records, known as volumes 2 and 3 of the Meyer report. Specifically, he granted access to all portions not related to Grand Jury testimony.

On the Capitol Pressroom, Susan Arbetter hosted two staff attorneys for the Attica Brothers Legal Defense, Elizabeth Fink and Joseph Heath, as well as Mike Smith, a guard who was taken hostage and subsequently wounded by police fire. All three are pushing for the complete release of documents relating to Attica and its aftermath.

Elizabeth Fink said, “What this is about are the parties of New York State that have covered up what happened in Attica for 43 years…The state has in its possession about a million documents, which are not protected by the Grand Jury; that are not protected by a court order; that were generated to fight the federal civil rights trial that Joe and I fought along with others. All of these documents describe what happened at Attica. And they are all in the possession of New York State and New York State has no intention of letting them go because they do not want anyone to really know what really happened in Attica.”

Joseph Heath added, “We know very well what they contain. One thing that could be released immediately and placed online is the transcript of our civil rights trial in ’91 and ’92. Because there we proved to a Buffalo jury that there was an “orgy of brutality” after the shooting—those are the words of the Second Circuit. We proved that the state police had an attack plan that was doomed to fail and that inevitably killed their own hostages.”

“In my opinion it is critical that everything be released for the public to interpret and process their own informed conclusions about the event,” Former hostage Mike Smith told Arbetter. “To me, Judge NeMoyer’s directive to release the Meyer report is a just a palliative response and it is just a continuation of the cover-up by the state of what actually happened.”

Listen to The Capitol Pressroom here.


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