When officers are misusing their power and it’s been going on for a long time, more than likely the Prosecuting Attorney (called the District Attorney for us) in the area is turning a blind eye to it. So what happens when something really bad happens?
Let’s take a look at the Michael Brown case from 2014 . Michael Brown was a Black teenager who lived in Ferguson, Missouri. He was shot by a white officer, Officer Darren Wilson. Brown was left lying on the street for hours while the, mostly black, population of Ferguson got more and more upset. The police kept changing their story and the Prosecuting Attorney didn’t seem to want to pursue the matter further. Civil unrest ensued with riots periodically breaking out. The case was put before a grand jury.
Here’s the thing about grand juries. First of all, they are confidential. What goes on in a grand jury is not released to the public. While there are some valid reasons for confidentiality it also allows improper actions to occur. The prosecutor is often the only attorney there. There is no defense attorney. The prosecution lays out their case. Now that sounds like the prosecution is trying to get the jury to believe the person is guilty but it can work the other way. They can lay out a case in a way to make the person appear to be innocent. And a grand jury doesn’t have to unanimously agree on a decision. They have to have a super majority of 2/3 or 3/4.
So here is a Prosecuting Attorney who, from the beginning, did not feel the officer had done anything wrong. This Prosecuting Attorney gets to decide what the grand jury is told and who gets to tell it. He gets to set the story. In the Brown shooting the multiple different stories by the police officers were ignored or downplayed, witnesses who were there were not called to testify before the grand jury and a person who wasn’t even there WAS called to testify before the grand jury, regarding what happened. How crazy is that?
Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said he had no regrets with letting the grand jury hear from non-credible witnesses. He claims he was letting the grand jury hear everything but what he was really doing was muddying the waters. The grand jury would have been under the assumption that those brought forth as witnesses were real witnesses.
So the officer was not indicted and Prosecuting Attorney McCulloch could pretend he did his job and say, see, an independent group of people felt the officer was correct in his actions, when all along he knew he had corrupted the process.
This is what can happen with a grand jury. I would bet that most people on a grand jury want to do the job well but they are at the mercy of the Prosecuting Attorney. So much depends on his or her integrity or the lack thereof.
For more information on the what Robert McCulloch did in the Michael Brown shooting click here.