- A grand juror from the Michael Brown case has filed a lawsuit asking for permission to speak publicly about the proceedings, arguing that the St. Louis county prosecutor has mischaracterized them.
- The lawsuit also alleges that legal standards of the case were conveyed in a "muddled" and "untimely" manner to the grand jury.
- The lawsuit is the latest in a string of criticisms over how prosecutors handled the Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury.
The grand juror wants legal permission to speak out
Under normal circumstances, participants have to remain silent about what happened in a grand jury even after the case is decided. The grand juror's lawsuit seeks legal permission to break that silence, St. Louis Public Radio reported.
The lawsuit, filed on January 5 in federal court, argues the grand juror should be able to speak out due to the unique nature of the Brown case and how more transparency could add to the broader national conversation about race, the criminal justice system, and police use of force.
Following a grand jury's decision to not indict former Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, critics have questioned St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch's handling of the case. The grand juror, simply named as Grand Juror Doe in the lawsuit, takes issue with how McCulloch has characterized the proceedings in public.
"In [the grand juror]'s view, the current information available about the grand jurors' views is not entirely accurate — especially the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges," the lawsuit states. "Moreover, the public characterization of the grand jurors' view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with [the grand juror]'s own."
The lawsuit also alleges that the proceedings focused much more on the victim — in this case, Brown — than grand juries traditionally do. And it suggests the grand jury may have been misled about the legal standards in the case.
The St. Louis county prosecutor has been accused of mishandling the case
Protesters in Ferguson and supporters of Brown have criticized several aspects of how McCulloch handled the Ferguson grand jury following the non-indictment of Wilson.
McCulloch didn't, by his own admission, try to seek an indictment. He instead presented all the evidence possible, even testimonies he knew were false, to the grand jury. McCulloch said this was meant to provide all sides of the story for the Brown shooting.
But some criminal justice experts have said McCulloch purposely flooded the grand jury with evidence in order to obfuscate the case against Wilson and avoid an indictment. "The prosecutors didn't want to indict," former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin told CNN. "That's why they conducted it that way."
St. Louis County prosecutors also may have misled the grand jury into believing Wilson was legally justified in shooting Brown merely because the unarmed black 18-year-old fled from the officer, according to a previous review of the grand jury documents by MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell.
Prosecutors cited a statute that said officers were justified in shooting a suspect just because he was fleeing. The US Supreme Court deemed the statute unconstitutional in 1985, ruling that a fleeing suspect must, at least in a police officer's reasonable view, pose a dangerous threat to someone or have committed a violent felony to justify a shooting. But prosecutors, who had full control of the evidence presented to the grand jury, took more than two months to correct their mistake, O'Donnell said.
No one has disputed that Brown did, at one point, run from Wilson. The legal debate, based on eyewitness testimony, has always centered on whether Brown attempted to surrender during the final moments of his encounter with Wilson. If Brown did attempt to surrender, Wilson may have been on the wrong side of the law when he killed the teen.
But the prosecutors' mistake, as explained by O'Donnell, effectively bypasses that legal debate by potentially misleading grand jurors into thinking that Wilson was justified in shooting just because Brown fled.