AFRICANGLOBE – A member of the grand jury that declined to indict the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown asked a federal court Monday to remove a lifetime gag order preventing jurors from discussing the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of an unnamed juror who wants to speak about the investigation but would be in violation of Missouri law by doing so.
The lawsuit also questions St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s characterization that “all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges.”
The suit was filed against McCulloch, who oversaw the investigation, because his office would be responsible for bringing charges against the juror, according to the ACLU. McCulloch’s spokesman, Ed Magee, said his office had not seen the lawsuit and declined immediate comment.
“Right now there are only 12 people who can’t talk about the evidence out there,” ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said. “The people who know the most — those 12 people are sworn to secrecy. What (the grand juror) wants is to be able to be part of the conversation.”
The suit does not seek to allow grand jurors in all Missouri cases to be free to discuss proceedings. But it argues that the Ferguson case was unique, and that allowing the juror to speak would benefit the national debate about race and police tactics that was sparked by the shooting.
Michael Brown was unarmed when he was fatally shot after a confrontation in August with then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who resigned from the department late last year.
The shooting led to widespread unrest in an around the St. Louis suburb, including some protests that resulted in local business being burned. Protests again turned violent on Nov. 24, when McCulloch publicly announced that the grand jury investigating the case had decided there wasn’t enough evidence to indict thug cop Darren Wilson.
The grand jury — which included nine white people and three Black individuals — met on 25 separate days over three months, hearing more than 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses. Those witnesses included medical examiners and experts on blood, toxicology and firearms, according to McCulloch.
The grand juror behind the lawsuit believes “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 contends. “Moreover, the public characterization of the grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with Plaintiff’s own.”
Rothert, the ACLU attorney, noted that the grand jury convened in May and heard hundreds of other cases before devoting its attention to the Wilson case in August. The suit contends that McCulloch’s office handled the Wilson case far differently than the others, with “a stronger focus on the victim.” The suit also contends that legal standards were discussed in a “muddled” and “untimely” manner.
He also said the Ferguson case was unique in how it sparked a national debate.
“The Supreme Court has said that grand jury secrecy must be weighed against the juror’s First Amendment rights on a case-by-case basis,” Rothert said. “The rules of secrecy must yield because this is a highly unusual circumstance. The First Amendment prevents the state from imposing a lifetime gag order in cases where the prosecuting attorney has purported to be transparent.”