"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."
Ferguson, Mo. - A member of the grand jury that failed to indict officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, have filed a lawsuit against St. Louis Prosecutor Bob McCullough to allow the grand juror to speak publicly about the case.
Generally grand jurors are not allowed to discuss cases in which they were involved.
The lawsuit is an attempt for the grand juror to create an avenue to speak to the public about the grand jury deliberations in an honest and open manner. It alleges that the prosecutor intentionally and knowingly misrepresented how the grand jury felt about the evidence and whether or not Darren Wilson should have been charged.
The suit stresses that McCullough mischaracterized the proceedings to the public at large and the case itself was very “muddled,” saying “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. Moreover, the public characterization of the grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with [Doe]’s own.”
As the proceedings are secret the grand juror who filed the suit is labeled as “Grand Juror Doe” in court filings.
Here are a number of excerpts from the lawsuit:
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19. From Plaintiff’s perspective, the presentation of evidence to the grand jury investigating Wilson differed markedly and in significant ways from how evidence was presented in the hundreds of matters presented to the grand jury earlier in its term.
20. From Plaintiff’s perspective, the State’s counsel to the grand jury investigating Wilson differed markedly and in significant ways from the State’s counsel to the grand jury in the hundreds of matters presented to the grand jury earlier in its term.
21. From Plaintiff’s perspective, the investigation of Wilson had a stronger focus on the victim than in other cases presented to the grand jury.
22. From Plaintiff’s perspective, the presentation of the law to which the grand jurors were to apply the facts was made in a muddled and untimely manner compared to the presentation of the law in other cases presented to the grand jury….
32. From Plaintiff’s perspective, Defendant’s undefined statement characterizes the views of the grand jurors collectively toward the evidence, witnesses, and the law, in a manner that does not comport with Plaintiff’s own opinions.
33. From Plaintiff’s perspective, although the release of a large number of records provides an appearance of transparency, with heavy redactions and the absence of context, those records do not fully portray the proceedings before the grand jury.
34. Plaintiff would like to speak about the experience of being a grand juror, including expressing Plaintiff’s opinions about the evidence and the investigation, and believes Plaintiff’s experience could contribute to the current public dialogue concerning race relations. In Plaintiff’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. Moreover, the public characterization of the grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with Plaintiff’s own. Plaintiff also wishes to express opinions about: whether the release of records has truly provided transparency; Plaintiff’s impression that evidence was presented differently than in other cases, with the insinuation that Brown, not Wilson, was the wrongdoer; and questions about whether the grand jury was clearly counseled on the law.
The ACLU argues that do to the extenuating circumstances the normal rules of secrecy that prohibit grand jurors from speaking out should be waived in the interest of justice.
“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.”
The suit requests that the judge grant an injunction which would stop anyone from enforcing or threatening to enforce the relevant laws that would require jurors to not comment publicly on this case under threat of criminal penalty.
The grand juror makes a strong First Amendment case. The Supreme Court, in Butterworth v. Smith (1990), held unconstitutional a permanent ban on a witness’s disclosing of his grand jury testimony, and the Court’s rationale may also apply to grand jurors and not just witnesses.
In the interest of justice and full disclosure, the court must allow the public to not only hear from the government’s appointed representative, Prosecutor McCullough, but from the representatives of the public in the case, the grand jury itself.
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, freethinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay's work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.