By Joel Currier and Robert Patrick, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)
ST. LOUIS — A member of the grand jury that declined to file criminal charges against former Ferguson, Mo., Police Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown sued St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch on Monday for the right to speak publicly about the proceedings.
The suit says that the former juror, identified in court documents only as “Grand Juror Doe,” wishes to speak out to challenge public misconceptions about the case and that speaking publicly could “contribute to the current public dialogue concerning race relations” that was sparked by the Aug. 9 fatal shooting. It hints that jurors were not unanimous in their decision. Doe also wants “to advocate for legislative change to the way grand juries are conducted in Missouri,” the suit says, and more simply, be able to talk about the case “with close family members at home.”
The suit, filed in federal court in St. Louis, asks a judge to rule unconstitutional the Missouri law that would criminalize any of Doe’s comments “about Doe’s experiences as a state grand juror” and bar McCulloch from prosecuting Doe.
The plaintiff claims McCulloch’s characterization of the grand jury’s view of the evidence was at odds with Doe’s opinions of the case, that the public’s understanding of the grand jurors’ views is “not entirely accurate.”
The investigation of Wilson “had a stronger focus on the victim than in other grand jury cases,” the suit says. The presentation of evidence and “the State’s counsel to the grand jury. . . differed markedly and in significant ways. . . from the hundreds of matters presented to the grand jury earlier in its term.” The suit also claims the legal guidelines presented to jurors in applying facts of the case were “muddled and untimely” compared to other cases.
The suit says Doe wants to challenge the accuracy of public statements and opinions about the grand jury, “especially the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges.” It says that the heavily redacted grand jury documents that have been released, and the lack of context, “do not fully portray the proceedings before the grand jury.”
State law says it is a misdemeanor for grand jurors to discuss their service. The plaintiff is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Town and Country law firm of Sowers & Wolf.
“The rules of secrecy must yield because this is a highly unusual circumstance,” Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a prepared statement. “The First Amendment prevents the state from imposing a lifetime gag order in cases where the prosecuting attorney has purported to be transparent.”
Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU, said that as both the public and legislatures are currently debating police misconduct, racial profiling and other issues sparked by the Brown shooting, “We believe that the public and the legislature need to have this information and we’re working to convince a judge.”
Mittman said that the information about the grand jury investigation had been entirely “one-sided” and “government-directed” to date.
“How this process worked. . . is solely being driven by the government,” he told the Post-Dispatch, adding, “as you know, the First Amendment doesn’t allow that.”
The public is entitled to “complete information not controlled by the government.”
Asked Doe’s gender, how Doe approached lawyers, whether Doe’s opinions represent the opinion of other grand jurors and whether Doe’s suit might prompt other jurors to come forward, Mittman offered essentially similar versions of the same statement: “This grand juror is being very respectful of the legal process and does not want to share information that it is not legally permissible to share.”
One reason the grand jury process is secret is to protect the target if an indictment is not returned, Mittman said. The court, he said, will look at reasons to break that secrecy: the interests of public policy and the ongoing debate about “are grand juries the best way to deal with police misconduct?”
Mittman did not want to speculate about how long the case will take to be resolved. “We certainly hope to work cooperatively with the attorneys for the county. It would be wonderful if there could be an expedited process.”
A McCulloch spokesman declined to comment, saying that McCulloch had not yet been served with the suit.
The grand jury Nov. 24 announced it would not indict Wilson for killing Brown.
Photo: Joe Newman via Flickr