New York to seek release of sealed Attica riot documents

New York plans to seek the release of sealed court documents pertaining to the bloody retaking of Attica state prison after inmates rioted in 1971, an episode that remains the nation's bloodiest prison rebellion.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he'll ask a state court in Wyoming County to unseal previously secret documents containing details about the four days in September 1971 when inmates took control of the maximum-security prison in rural western New York before state troopers stormed the facility to end the takeover.

Schneiderman said the time has come to bring transparency to what he referred to as one of New York state government's "darkest chapters."

"We are in the process of evaluating what mode, timing and mechanics of release will best balance a number of imperatives: the public's right to a full airing of available, relevant information; our obligation to treat all subjects of the report fairly and to put its findings in their proper context when released; and preservation of the integrity of grand jury proceedings, which is so critical to the effectiveness of law enforcement and public protection," Schneiderman said.

The information in question is contained in sealed parts of a 1975 state report that examined New York's efforts to investigate the riot and its aftermath. Thirty-two inmates and 11 civilian employees died at Attica during the four-day siege, with the majority of the fatalities, including 10 hostages and 29 inmates, occurring when state troopers stormed the prison's D Yard on Sept. 13, 1971.

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Known as the Meyer Report for the former state judge who headed the New York commission that investigated the riot and its aftermath, the 570-page document completed in 1975 was divided into three volumes. The first was partially released, but a state judge ordered the second two to be sealed in 1981 because they contain grand jury testimony.

Among those long seeking release of the Meyer Report and other publicly held riot records are members of the Forgotten Victims of Attica, a group of prison employees who survived the riot and relatives of those who died.

"For families that lost their father, son, brother because they were killed in D Yard, they yearn to know the truth of how their loved-one died, and why they died," said Gary Morton, a lawyer representing the group. "Some of that has come out, but certainly there's a lot more that hasn't come out."

Dee Quinn Miller, whose father, William Quinn, was an Attica guard who died two days after being injured in the riot, said unsealing the rest of the Meyer Report could lead to the release of other records, including many kept at the New York State Archives.

"It's information that the families have a right to know," said Miller, who was 5 years old when her father died. "I don't know what information is in there. Isn't that the crux of it all? Many of our family members have been searching for years for information on their loved-one who was killed in the yard," she said. "For the most part, people have the right to know what happened there."