Daily reminder: Grand juries for officer-involved shootings are bullshit.
In the wake of controversial decisions by prosecutors in Richmond County, New York, and St. Louis County, Missouri, to protect the police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown, respectively, with grand jury proceedings, activists and legal experts are rightly calling foul in Cleveland. On October 10, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty took the grand jury scheme a step further, authorizing the release of two independent reports that argued that officer Timothy Loehmann acted reasonably in killing 12-year-old Tamir Rice. These public reports came well in advance of the grand jury, and according to some experts may unfairly color the proceedings in Loehmann’s favor. You think? According to Mother Jones:
[T]he reports have sparked outrage from Rice’s family and supporters, who say the grand jury investigation amounts to “a charade aimed at whitewashing” and are demanding that a special
take over the case. Some legal experts suggest that the reports could improperly influence the pool of people serving on the grand jury, who began hearing evidence in recent weeks and will ultimately determine whether Loehmann should face charges. The development adds to a cloud of questions hanging over the case ever since Rice’s death almost a year ago—including why Loehmann and his partner who drove the squad car, Frank Garmback, have never spoken to investigators.
The officers involved in Tamir Rice’s death have no obligation to speak to investigators for a grand jury proceeding, which in itself means that the evidence used in the independent reports lacks key context (not to mention that one of the “use of force experts” is a member of a DA’s office). McGinty’s actions in releasing the reports far in advance of the grand jury are unorthodox at best—what prosecutor in any other situation would publicly release two documents that dilute his ability to prosecute?
McGinty’s stated reason for releasing the reports is that he’s “trying to break that pattern” of secrecy and opacity surrounding grand juries. However, given the fact that the rest of the grand jury will likely be conducted in perfect secrecy and opacity, this defense falls flat. McGinty’s actions can be read as willfully influencing a potential grand jury to protect another officer. The fact that grand juries have extremely lax rules and much more prosecutorial latitude leads to almost limitless chances for prosecutors to manipulate jury members.
My colleague Josie Duffy is writing on keeping prosecutors accountable. It’s great and necessary work. Breaking the complex of secrecy, conflicts of interest, and blatant jury manipulation between police forces and their prosecutor guardian angels is vital in ensuring police accountability and curbing police violence. At least one state, California, has gotten it right and has ended the use of grand juries in investigations for officer-involved shootings. At this point, we all know the game.