Filed Date: Aug. 5, 1977
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This case is part of the Clearinghouse's special collection on the Attica Uprising. In September of 1971, incarcerated people in New York's Attica Correctional Facility took control of the prison and took several staff members hostage. The uprising ended when state police violently stormed the prison, killing over 40 incarcerated people and staff members. Attica was one of the most significant events in the American prisoners' rights movement and drew public attention to poor conditions in prisons across the country. The uprising, retaking, and their aftermaths spawned numerous lawsuits, many of which are included in this special collection.
This case concerns the release of the Meyer Report, which investigated allegations that state officials covered up crimes committed by state police and corrections officers during the uprising and reprisals.
The Attica Task Force Investigation
In October 1971, state officials established the Attica Task Force to investigate possible crimes committed during the uprising, the retaking, and after the retaking. Robert Fischer was appointed as the Special Deputy Attorney General to oversee the Task Force, and was later replaced by Anthony Simonetti. As a result of the investigation, 62 people incarcerated were indicted, while only 1 state trooper was.
One of the prosecutors in the Task Force, Malcolm Bell, wanted to bring murder, manslaughter, and reckless endangerment charges against the state police officers. However, he felt state officials were interfering with his efforts to bring those charges. He was then suspended for meeting with a confidential source without the proper authorization. In 1975, Bell submitted a report to Governor Hugh Carey, alleging that the Task Force covered up evidence of crimes committed by state troopers and failed to bring the necessary charges. Bell then went public, alleging a cover-up of the violence during the retaking.
The Meyer Report
In response to Bell’s allegations, the governor appointed Bernard Meyer as Special Deputy Attorney General to investigate the allegations against the Task Force. That investigation and corresponding report, known as the Meyer Report, was completed in December 1975. The Meyer Report concluded that although there was no initial cover-up in the investigation or the corresponding grand jury presentment of the evidence the Task Force uncovered, there was deficient police work during that investigation.
Volume 1 of the Meyer Report was released in December 1975. It outlined the investigation’s general fact findings and conclusions, including information about the allegations that led to the investigation and the investigation procedure. In the introduction to Volume 1, Meyer stated his expectation that the “full report will eventually become a matter of public record…the precise nature and timing of its eventual public release will depend upon the status of the Grand Jury investigation and rights of individuals.”
Volumes 2 and 3 of the Meyer Report included sensitive fact findings and information about the secret proceedings before the Attica grand jury, namely evidence presented and identifying information of witnesses and targets. These volumes were not released with Volume 1 because there was on-going litigation and the possibility of more indictments, and the material in Volumes 2 and 3 might have interfered with those proceedings.
Attempts to Publish the Meyer Report from 1977-1981
This case concerns the attempts by New York Attorneys General to publish Volumes 2 and 3 of the Meyer Report. In the 1970s and 1980s, two Attorneys General filed applications before the Wyoming County Supreme Court to release Volumes 2 and 3.
The first application was filed by Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz on August 5, 1977 before Supreme Court Justice Carmen Ball. As part of the request, Lefkowitz submitted a proposed version of the volumes that redacted all names to prevent reputational harm. The Attica guards opposed the application because the report included names of specific guards involved in the retaking. They argued that because no guards were indicted or disciplined after the retaking, it would subject guards and their families to unfair public scorn. On November 19, 1977, the court denied the Attorney General’s application to release the redacted volumes However, the court allowed the release of the exhibits included in the redacted volumes if needed for other litigation, as long as grand jury testimony was redacted. 92 Misc. 2d 316. The state appellate court affirmed the denial of the application. 68 NY2d 220.
The second application was filed on August 1, 1980 by Attorney General Robert Abrams, who took office in 1979. The case was before Supreme Court Justice Frederick Marshall. Abrams filed the application after the Attorney General’s office had completed the redactions of Volume 2 and 3 as ordered in the 1977 opinion. Abrams sought the release of the redacted versions of Volumes 2 and 3. Abrams asked the court to do an in-camera review of the proffered redactions, and then allow their publication. However, on January 16, 1981, the court denied the request and ordered that Volumes 2 and 3 be permanently sealed.
Recent Attempt to Publish the Meyer Report
Although there was no additional litigation concerning the Meyer Report until 2013, advocacy groups, including the Forgotten Victims of Attica (FVOA), advocated for the report’s release throughout the early 2000s. The FVOA is an advocacy group of hostages and DOC employees who survived the retaking and the families of those who were killed. In the early 2000s, they proposed a Five-Point-Plan for Justice. One point was the release of sealed materials, including the Meyer Report. FVOA began discussing the Meyer Report with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in 2011, and he committed to filing the application for the sake of government transparency. The leader of the New York Assembly’s Correction Committee at the time also asked Schneiderman to consider the issue. Governor Andrew Cuomo also voiced support for the release of the records.
Schneiderman and Cuomo moved forward with renewing the two previous applications to secure the release of Volumes 2 and 3 with the necessary redactions. The application was filed in September 2013 in the Special Term of the Supreme Court of New York in Wyoming County, the same court that handled the case in the 1970s and 1980s. State Supreme Court Justice Patrick NeMoyer was assigned to the case.
Two police unions (the New York State Police Investigators Association and the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers), and one widow of an officer involved in the retaking sought to intervene. They opposed the publication because they were concerned that the names of state police officers and prison guards involved in the retaking would be released. Those motions to intervene were granted without opposition. The court also received communications from about a dozen individuals, including Bell, members of the public, and public officials, advocating for the release of the materials.
The court released its decision and order on April 24, 2014. 45 Misc.3d 187. The court denied the request to release the portions of the volumes that included evidence presented to the grand jury. The judge found that the bar for overcoming grand jury secrecy was very high, and that Schneiderman failed to show a compelling and particularized need for the disclosure because the only purpose was to help inform the public. Public disclosure did not outweigh the risk of unfounded accusations against those named in the report and the risk of reprisal for witnesses.
However, the court found Schneiderman could release the portions of Volumes 2 and 3 not referring to grand jury evidence because there was no legal authority for a court to prohibit him from releasing materials on a matter of public interest. The court found it could not require Schneiderman to redact all names or identifying information about grand jury witnesses and targets included in those portions of the volumes. Finally, the court found Schneiderman did not have to allow those affected by the release to review the version before publication. Schneiderman did not appeal the decision. There has been no action in the case since.
On May 21, 2015, Schneiderman released the 46 pages of the 400 pages in Volumes 2 and 3 that did not include grand jury evidence. The 46 pages discussed evidence about the beatings and torture committed by prison staff and state police against those who participated in the uprising. The report found that the Attica Task Force failed to interview witnesses who could have identified officials responsible for the violence in a timely manner. The released materials included specific quotes from those who witnessed the violence and those abused. Additionally, the pages discussed the FBI investigation into the retaking, detailing how the FBI investigation ended without an explanation or recommendations for charges.
In 2021, legislation to release the remainder of the Meyer Report was proposed in the New York State Senate (Senate Bill S316A). The bill was in committee as of March 2022.
Sarah Marble (3/2/2022)
NeMoyer, Patrick H. (New York)
Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:32 p.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: New York
Filing Date: Aug. 5, 1977
Case Ongoing: No reason to think so
New York Attorney General
Public Interest Lawyer: No
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
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