For a long time now, the policy of the Travis County DA’s office has been to present all cases involving police shootings to a grand jury for review, no matter what the circumstances where.
That was the case, for instance, for Austin police officer Carlos Lopez, who a grand jury no-billed 11 months after he shot and killed a gunman who was randomly shooting inside the downtown Omni hotel. The gunman had already shot and killed taxi driver Conrado Contreras by the time Lopez arrived.
It also happened with Austin police Sgt. Adam Johnson, who a grand jury declined to indict in 2015 for shooting and killing a man in downtown Austin who was standing in the middle of Eighth Street firing a rifle at police headquarters, and had already sprayed several government buildings with gunfire.
Not any more. The new Travis County DA, Margaret Moore, has decided that her office is going to review officer-involved shootings, and only present the ones that they feel require review to a grand jury.
She will only take cases to grand jurors if she thinks the shooting was unlawful or if facts about what happened are in dispute.
Unlike predecessors, who have viewed grand juries as independent reviewers best equipped to determine whether to indict an officer, Moore said she also will issue an opinion, with help from the new Civil Rights Division she has established, and provide a recommendation “as to the legal sufficiency of a case.”
Bad idea, as I see it.
There are a lot of problems with the criminal justice system, including grand juries. Jurors sometimes aren’t much more than rubber stamps for the DA’s office. But at least they are independant. At least grand juries offer some kind of outside review, flawed though it may be. This is going to backfire badly on DA Moore the first time a shooting that didn’t get reviewed blows up.
I’m baffled by the NAACP’s support for this: you would think they’d want the additional scrutiny, but perhaps the DA was persuasive. The support of the police union makes a little more sense:
Moore said those cases often have taken months to present to a grand jury because of workload and a backlog of other cases, leaving officers in limbo and sometimes preventing police officials from closing administrative investigations.
The people who have spoken to our CPA classes and that have been involved in shootings have said that there is some stress involved in waiting on the grand jury verdict. But they downplayed that specific part of it. Yes, the aftermath is highly stressful (and the department has good programs in place to deal with it). But it seemed to me that they felt the grand jury verdict was just the end: by the time that came in, they’d already been cleared by Internal Affairs and the Special Investgaions Division, and had usually moved on to other assignments.
(I can’t recall a case in…well, ever, where APD ruled a shooting okay and a grand jury indicted. Maybe the Kleinert case mentioned in the article, but I’m not clear on what action APD took in that case. In the most recent case that I know of where there was any controversy – the naked 17-year-old – the grand jury no-billed but APD fired the officer anyway.)