Coalition to Ban Grand Juries in Police/Civilian Cases in NYS Going Forward
- New York 08/18/2015 by Linda Perry (WBAI)

New York State Assembly Member Charles Barron is following through on legislation that was signed by California’s governor Jerry Brown last week.  The California law prohibits the use of grand juries in cases where police have killed civilians.  The bill was introduced by California State Senator Holly Mitchell in response to high-profile cases in Ferguson and in New York City, where grand juries failed to indict police officers for the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner.

Assembly Member Barron is now calling for a ban on grand juries in cases involving the killing of civilians by police across New York State.  "What this would do is take the grand jury out of the indictment process, since DAs have so much influence over a grand jury that they can get an indictment on a ham sandwich, but they can't seem to get an indictment on police officers who kill us."  

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently appointed New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as Special Prosecutor in cases where police are involved in the death of civilians. But this doesn’t go far enough according to Barron. He believes the Special Prosecutor could impanel a secret grand jury and then we’d be back at square one.  He says,"You don't want to have a special prosecutor who can go to a secret grand jury and hide behind the cover of a grand jury, and say that 'Oh, I presented the case to the best of my ability, but they just didn't indict. We don't know if you presented the case to the best of your ability because it's secret."

And the lack of transparency and secrecy of a grand jury is what Joshua S. Moskovitz of Beldock, Levine and Hoffman; the lead attorney for the Garner family emphasizes.  He points out that what is often overlooked are the four officers who were with Officer Daniel Pantaleo when he put Eric Garner in that deadly chokehold. "The significance of the fact that the District Attorney gave immunity to all these other officers in order to get them to testify, or encourage them to testify.  The truth is that we don't know because we haven't seen the transcripts.  What did they say!?We know that there were all these other officers involved, including supervising officers.  You can see them in the video, and they're standing around.  They're not doing anything.  I think it's going to be hugely important for us to know what they said in the grand jury.  It had to have had some impact on the decision not to indict the police or that would be the perception."

Barron wants to open up the process and make public the preliminary hearings of cases involving police officer killing civilians. "This way with my bill and the city council member's resolution and Senator Perkins' bill in the [State] Senate, this would call for the grand jury to be out of the process and all of that would be public before a judge in a preliminary hearing."

Barron is building a coalition of lawmakers to get the support he will need to pass this law through the NY State Assembly and the State Senate.  "We're putting that coalition together.  I will be petitioning my colleagues in the [NY] State Assembly to get on board.  Assemblyman, Nick Perry, who is the Chair of the Black, Latino, Asian Caucus said that he wanted to co-sponsor the bill with me, and we're trying to get co-sponsors in the Senate.  

Harlem State Senator Bill Perkins said he will push it in the Senate, and so the next step for us is to get it our colleagues.  We're going to put together the coalition because this will have to take pressure from the bottom-up, and not negotiations in back rooms from the top-down."