Tending: Prosecutors Nixing Grand Juries From Police Shooting Cases
Susanne Posel (OC) : In Minneapolis, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced to the public that he will not employ a grand jury to determine whether 2 police officers will be charged in the shooting death of Jamar Clark last November.
During the initial phases of the investigation, Freeman said he would use a grand jury to decide how to proceed in Clark’s death; however after 40 years of grand juries, Freeman has come to the realization that “the accountability and transparency limitations of a grand jury are too high a hurdle to overcome.”
Freeman also accused grand juries of being secretive and lacking “transparency” which leads to “no direct accountability”. The attorney said that “strikes us as problematic in a democratic society, and to use or not use a grand jury in a shooting case is a hard decision for me.”
As shocking as this is, it seems Freeman is just following what could become a national trend.
Last August, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that prohibits grand juries from ruling over cases of police use of deadly or lethal force.
Because grand juries are “shrouded in secrecy” when it comes to police brutality cases, state senator Holly Mitchell wrote SB 227 in response to the lack of incitement on nationally spotlighted cases such as the shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last year; as well as the choking death of Eric Garner by New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo.
Transparency in policing was called for nationally by citizens due to the disparate treatment of African-Americans and other minorities because of multiple instances of deadly force used against citizens by out of control cops.
Mitchell commented that “criminal grand jury proceedings differ from traditional trials in a variety of ways; they are not adversarial. No judges or defense attorneys participate. There are no cross-examinations of witnesses, and there are no objections. How prosecutors explain the law to the jurors and what prosecutors say about the evidence are subject to no oversight. And the proceedings are shrouded in secrecy.”
Police advocacy groups and the California Assistant of District Attorneys argued that the bill took away an important and useful prosecutorial tool.
However Mitchell argues: “One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to understand why SB 227 makes sense. The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system.”
LaDoris Cardell, retired judge and former San Jose Independent police auditor, said about the bill: “What the governor’s decision says is, he gets it — the people don’t want secrecy when it comes to officer-involved shootings. We’re not trying to get more officers indicted. We’re saying, ‘Whatever you decide, do it in the open’.”
Conversely, it is the case of the police shooting death of 12 year old Tamir Rice that highlights the role of importance that grand juries play.
Timothy J. McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, told reporters only a grand jury will decide if Tim Loehmann, the officer that killed Rice or his accompanying officer Frank Garmback, would be charged in Rice’s death.
Walter Madison, attorney for the Rice family, has called for McGinty to “bypass the grand jury and issue a warrant for the officer’s arrest.”
This could have something to do with the notorious history of grand juries not indicting officers because the prosecutor controls who is ultimately charged and who is not.
Police shooting cases brought before grand juries have an uncanny ability to be dropped and the officer goes without being charged with a crime.
An investigation into this phenomenon have found that in cities such as Houston, Texas, “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings”.
For example, in Harris County, Texas “grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment.”
Philip Stinson, criminologist at Bowling Green State University (BGSU), said officers “are rarely charged in on-duty killings, although it didn’t look at grand jury indictments specifically.”
Reasons for why grand juries notoriously refuse to indict officers in shooting deaths of citizens include:
- Jury bias which lends to jurors trusting the officer and believing their reasons for excessive use of force was justified
- Prosecutorial bias which leads to less compelling cases against officers because prosecutors depend on the police to assist them in criminal investigations
- Confirmation bias which leads to only winnable cases brought to grand juries
Madison tweeted: “The Honorable Judge Ronald Adrine swiftly and decisively found probable cause for Murder (and other homicide offenses). Within thirty-six hours [after] that court order we now have a public release of the County Sheriff’s investigation into the death of 12 year old Tamir Rice.”
Susanne Posel, Occupy Corporatism