Attorneys for the widow of the state police official who ordered the storming of Attica prison on Sept. 13, 1971, have used the words of the judge responsible for sealing the second and third volumes of the 1975 report on the riot to try to block their publication.
Edward C. Cosgrove, lead attorney for Lavonna Williams, the widow of State Police Col. Henry F. Willians, said the decision of late State Supreme Court Justice Frederick M. Marshall to release those volumes in their redacted form would only serve to “discolor and exacerbate” facts about the bloody riot.
Cosgrove has joined in the efforts to persuade State Supreme Court Justice Patrick H. NeMoyer to reject the recent bid of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to finally make those two volumes public.
NeMoyer is expected to rule on the attorney general’s request in several months.
Cosgrove – in court papers filed with NeMoyer – cited Marshall’s agreement with state officials in the mid-1970s that the release of the final two volumes of the so-called Meyer report on the riot would only present the public with “a largely gutted, distorted and meaningless document.”
Cosgrove said Marshall found that the proposed release of edited and redacted versions of those two volumes contained “obliterated, indistinct and irresolute language” that created a needlessly confusing explanation about the events.
Cosgrove noted that Mrs. Williams, who still lives in Erie County, has joined the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers Inc., the state troopers union and the New York State Police Investigators Association in opposing the release of the final two volumes.
The riot, which lasted five days, was blamed on poor inmate living conditions and overcrowding in the maximum-security prison in Wyoming County. Thirty-two inmates and 11 staff hostages died in the riot and the retaking of the prison. The lengthy Meyer Commission Report – named for former judge Bernard S. Meyer, who headed investigation on the riot – came in three volumes – the first featuring findings and recommendations and the second and third volumes, grand jury testimony.
Schneiderman has called for the release of the final two volumes because all criminal and civil litigation linked to the riot is long over.
Cosgrove said he has emphasized to NeMoyer that in sealing the final two volumes, Marshall believed that attempts at redaction “would do nothing to alleviate the problem of protecting persons from unfounded accusations.”
Cosgrove, a former Erie County district attorney, noted that Williams was ordered by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and law enforcement superiors to storm the prison in 1971, and had testified before grand juries and state disciplinary boards – none finding criminal wrongdoing by him or other troopers involved in the retaking of the prison.
When Williams died in 1986, he was in charge of the 900-person State Police Bureau of Criminal investigation. For the past 26 years, state police have held the Col. Henry F. Williams International Homicide Seminar, Cosgrove noted.
At the time of the Attica riot, Williams was a captain, but he later became a world-recognized expert on forensic homicide work and he was assistant state police superintendent when he died.