State Task Force Recommends Police Use of Deadly Force Cases Go to Attorney General; Prosecutors Oppose Idea

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Update: It didn't take long for officials around the state to react to the grand jury task force's recommendation that the state Attorney General's office handle all police lethal use of force cases.

AG Mike DeWine told the Dispatch that they have more than enough work to do already, for instance, but that, "It's something, if the legislature wants us to do, we will. We're not looking for more things to do, frankly." 

And John Murphy, the executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, noted that, "We think the prosecutor is perfectly capable of dealing with these cases," and opposes any notion of relinquishing that power to the AG.

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(Original story 7/14/16): In a report released yesterday, a task force that has spent the past six months investigating grand jury procedures in the state of Ohio recommended that all police lethal use of force (PLUF) cases be handed over to the state Attorney General.

Prosecuting attorneys, like Timothy McGinty in Cuyahoga County, simply have too close a working relationship with the police departments they are called upon to investigate and prosecute, the report concluded. The Attorney General has the advantage of distance.  

"This “step removed” from local law enforcement would serve to increase public confidence that decisions on the investigation and, if needed, presentation of a PLUF case to a grand jury are being made objectively, impartially, and with great deliberation," the report said.  

The one disadvantage, the report noted, is that this would be the first type of case in which the Attorney General would be given exclusive authority without local prosecutors first getting the right of first refusal. 

"This “first” could be viewed as an encroachment by the state government into areas traditionally reserved for local government," the report said.

But the advantage of public confidence, and the advantage of "promoting a higher degree of uniformity" in how PLUF cases are investigated outweighed the negative, in the estimation of the task force, which included judges, professors, attorneys, politicians and law enforcement representatives statewide. 

(Just as an aside: the task force included both Kevin Bacon (a state senator from Columbus), and Janet Jackson (the president and CEO of Central Ohio's United Way.)

The task force was commissioned in January, one week after Scene reported that the Grand Jury in the Tamir Rice case never actually took a vote on whether or not to indict Cleveland Police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback; they merely declined to indict, in Prosecutor McGinty's words via an unknown, super-secret mechanism. Trust in the Grand Jury system was at an all-time low. 

And though details of the Tamir Rice Grand Jury proceedings were fleeting and flimsy at the time, a scorching story in GQ published online Wednesday morning reveals new details. It includes interviews with expert witnesses called to testify who said not only that the Grand Jury was unlike anything they'd ever seen; the prosecuting attorneys behaved as if they were defense lawyers for the police officers. 

The story recounted how Roger Clark, an expert hired by the Rice family, was treated on the witness stand. He had a gun waved in his face by Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Meyer — rather the villain in the story — and was forced to defend his credentials on the stand.

From the GQ piece: 

"If a prosecutor presenting his own experts to a grand jury is uncommon, bringing in experts hired by the victim of a shooting is unprecedented. 'It puts the victim in the unusual position of having to be the advocate,' says Earl Ward, one of the lawyers for Tamir’s family. “No, unusual is too light: I’ve never heard of it. In my 30 years of experience, this is the first time.'”

So the Task Force's assembly was welcome. In addition to recommending that local prosecutors be stripped of their abilities to "prosecute" PLUF cases, the task force also recommended multiple strategies to improve the orientation and education of Grand Juries. 


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