LA Times: Lawmaker would bar grand juries in cases of police shootings

February 17, 2015

A state lawmaker has proposed to prohibit the use of criminal grand juries in California in cases of officer-involved shootings that result in the deaths of  suspects.

The proposal by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) comes four months after a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., touched off national demonstrations when it declined to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of an unarmed African American man.

Mitchell introduced legislation to bar the use of a grand jury, arguing that secrecy of the bodies was intended to protect the reputations of people accused of crimes, but that the result has been to keep the public from being fully informed when a police officer is accused of excessive force.

“Community mistrust in the justice system arises when the public’s right to know is abridged,” Mitchell said in a statement. “Too often eye witnesses and video evidence substantiating charges of wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement are not revealed or probed in context, resulting in seemingly inexplicable dismissal of cases by the Grand Jury.”

Mitchell cited an opinion by San Jose's independent police auditor LaDoris Cordell, who has said, “There is no place for secrecy in our criminal justice system, particularly where officer conduct is in question."

Mitchell’s SB 227 will be heard by Senate committees in the coming weeks.