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What Can Be Done About Prosecutorial Misconduct?

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Note: In addition to seeing police abuse more clearly in recent years thanks to easy access to video cameras and a political movement that wants to expose police abuse, we have also seen prosecutorial misconduct. Most recently it was evident in the Tamir Rice grand jury, but it was also evident in the Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Sandra Bland and other recent cases. Here is 14 times that police killed someone this year, mostly unarmed, and walked free. Sometimes, as in the prosecution of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trevon Martin that the prosecutor is so inept that it raises questions about whether they were really seeking a conviction. In the essay below, Barbara R. Arnwine, President of the Transformative Justice Coalition, clearly states the problem and lays out steps that need to be taken to solve it.

Dear Friends:

I am sure that you were as stunned and disappointed as so many of us were by the grand jury’s non-indictment of the officers involved in the download (1)death of Tamir Rice.  However, this story is actually one of gross prosecutorial misconduct and pro-police bias.  My statement below addresses this all too common problem and makes some policy and action step recommendations to address this national crisis of police officers not being held accountable for slayings of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. With your support the Transformative Justice Coalition can work in the years to come to make these vital reforms a reality.

“The Disgraceful Prosecutorial Misconduct of Timothy McGinty and Needed Reforms.”

Statement of Barbara R. Arnwine, President, Transformative Justice Coalition.  

The time is now for dramatic change to staunch the national crisis in policing and the slaying of people of color!

Our nation is confronting an horrific epidemic of senseless and inexcusable police killings of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.  And profoundly the criminal justice system has  insulated many culpable officers from being held accountable for their use of excessive force, racial profiling and killings. Thus we come to the issue of prosecutorial bias and misconduct and specifically the non-indictment in the Tamir Rice Slaying.

The prosecutorial misconduct by Prosecutor Timothy McGinty in the Tamir Rice grand jury proceedings should be the impetus for widespread systemic reform of the grand jury process.

Prosecutor McGinty first resisted the urgent pleas of the Cleveland community to convene a grand jury and only did so after months of foot-dragging.  He publicly made statements attacking Tamir Rice’s family.  During the grand jury proceedings there were repeated public leaks of grand jury information including some leaks by McGinty himself.  He hired “experts” to construct reports to serve as justifications for the officer’s shooting. His conduct of the Grand Jury proceeding was wrought with bias in favor of the police officers allowing them to read statements to the grand jury with no cross examination allowed.  His misconduct and bias culminated in his admitted recommendation to the Grand Jury that they not indict the officers!  Not surprising, the grand jury followed his recommendation and did not indict.

This non-indictment was rendered despite the known evidence in this case.  Tamir Rice was a 12 year boy who was playing with a toy gun in a public playground.  A neighbor called the police to report Tamir’s actions but noted it could be a toy gun which was not communicated to the officers alerted to respond to the call. Officer Timothy Loehman shot Tamir Rice within 2 seconds of arriving on the scene while the police car was still in motion and without time for Tamir to hear or comply with any orders.  In his immediate previous employment, Officer Loehman had been found incompetent in the performance of his police duties due to emotional issues and the improper use of a firearm. In his file, the Independence Police Official stated, “I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies.”  Officers Frank Garmack and Loehman placed their own selves in jeopardy by driving within feet of Tamir Rice while firing upon him.  The officers made no attempt to independently assess the situation or communicate with Tamir Rice before shooting.  Four minutes passed after the shooting before any medical aid was provided to Tamir Rice.

Less than a week before, the grand jury in the Sandra Bland Death also failed to indict anyone for her death while in jail custody.  Again at least one of the “independent” prosecutors stated that he was opposed to any indictments and hadn’t expected the grand jury to indict.

Over and over again, we hear the same refrain of senseless death by police and prosecutorial pro-police bias and misconduct.

How do we change this dynamic?  What can be done differently?

Here are my thoughts:

  1.   Establish Well Funded and Resourced Independent, Representative and Diverse Panels of Citizens and Legal Experts to Deliberate in Police Shooting Cases;
  1.   Use Independent investigators to prepare the reports on police shootings;
  1.   Follow the lead of the State of California and make all police shooting proceedings public thereby ending the secret grand jury process;
  1.    Establish National Standards for Prosecutorial Misconduct which if violated can result in loss of position;
  1.    Officers involved in shootings should be required to file a full incident report that day and undergo immediate drug and alcohol testing;
  1.    Voters must prioritize the election of district attorney, state attorney, prosecutor and attorney general;
  1.    Voters should vote for candidates who run on a platform of strict police accountability;
  1.    Revise federal and state civil rights statutes to eliminate “intent” requirement and only require preponderance of the evidence to bring a lawsuit against law enforcement for the use of excessive force, brutality, racial profiling or misconduct thus providing greater latitude for the Department of Justice to intervene in these matters;

Making these urgent reforms is an imperative that must not be denied!  Only by doing so do we return the word “Justice” into these deliberations of police shootings.

I will be working hard to actualize these policy and action recommendations.  Support the Work of the Transformative Justice Coalition to bring about these needed reforms.
Thank You!

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