OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A veteran prosecutor and Nebraska state senator want the veil of secrecy lifted from grand jury investigations into police shootings.
Sen. Ernie Chambers said he’ll work with Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine on legislation that would let open the doors to the jury hearings. Under Nebraska law, grand juries must review the actions of officers and jailers whenever someone dies in custody or in the process of being apprehended.
Chambers is on the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and has, over his 11 legislative terms, been a watchdog of police and the justice system. He told the Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/1TE7kLU ) that he’s concluded the grand juries merely serve as rubber-stamps for police because the jurors don’t hold officers accountable.
The deadly actions of police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and other communities have resulted in violent protests, often followed by harsh criticism of grand juries and the criminal justice system. In Omaha questions were raised by community members after a grand jury declined to indict an officer who shot a robbery suspect in the back. The suspect turned out to be unarmed.
But Kleine, Douglas County’s top prosecutor, said that if people were able to view grand jury proceedings, they’d see citizens looking for answers, not conducting cover-ups.
The very term “grand jury” often leads to thoughts of conspiracy, Kleine said.
“When you say it’s conducted in secret, you allow people to conclude there’s something untoward going on,” he said.
Chambers said that if he doesn’t succeed in letting the public view the proceedings, he’ll ask his fellow senators to scrap grand juries from state law.
Some states already have.
Connecticut and Pennsylvania outlawed grand juries because of concerns that they were too secretive. A new Wisconsin law leaves the charging decision to local prosecutors and lets the public view the full investigative file if a prosecutor doesn’t indict an officer.
Kleine said he plans to discuss the open grand jury idea with the National District Attorneys Association. He’s on its executive board.