ALBANY, N.Y. – New York’s attorney general has asked a state judge to release sealed documents about the 1971 riot and retaking of Attica state prison in an effort to reveal the full history of the nation’s bloodiest prison rebellion and answer the questions of families whose loved ones died there.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wants the court in Wyoming County to open hundreds of detailed pages about investigations into the five September days when inmates took control of the maximum-security prison in rural western New York until state troopers and guards stormed the facility and fatally shot 29 inmates and 10 hostages.
Schneiderman said it’s time to bring transparency to what he referred to as one of the state government’s darkest chapters. The sealed documents are part of a 1975 report by a special commission that examined New York’s efforts to investigate the riot and its aftermath.
“It is important, both for families directly affected and for future generations, that these historical documents be made available so the public can have a better understanding of what happened and how we can prevent future tragedies,” Schneiderman said. He noted the historical significance and the fact that all related criminal and civil litigation has ended. And after 40 years, he said, the privacy concerns can be addressed more narrowly by omitting only the names of many grand jury witnesses and some people identified in testimony.
Among those seeking the records are the Forgotten Victims of Attica, a group of prison employees who survived 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,” Gary Morton, a lawyer representing the group, said this year. “Some of that has come out, but certainly there’s a lot more that hasn’t come out.”
In all, 11 staff and 32 inmates died, all but four shot by troopers and correction officers who fired hundreds of rounds in six minutes storming the prison’s D Yard on Sept. 13, 1971. An additional 89 men were wounded. The inmates were demanding better conditions and amnesty for the riot itself.
Known as the Meyer Commission Report for the late judge who headed the investigation, the 570-page document was divided into volumes. The first with broad findings and recommendations was released, but the others were sealed in 1981 because they contain grand jury testimony.