A member of the Missouri grand jury that refused to indict Darren Wilson has now sued in federal court to lift a lifetime gag order which forbids grand jurors from talking about the case.
Wilson is the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black male, on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the unidentified grand juror on Monday, the Daily Mail reports.
The gist of the lawsuit is that the grand juror now wants to speak about the grand jury proceedings. Missouri law prohibits such speech. However, the grand juror argues that the state law violates the First Amendment right to free speech enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit, filed against St. Louis County prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch, is essentially preemptive. McCulloch is the defendant because his office would handle criminal charges against any grand juror who violates the gag order.
The lawsuit also disputes McCulloch’s representation in November that “all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges.” The clear implication, then, is that at least some grand jurors wanted charges.
“[T]he public characterization of the grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with Plaintiff’s own,” the lawsuit asserts.
The suit proclaims that the prosecutor focused too much on Brown and that the prosecutor explained the legal standards for finding a true bill of criminal charges in a “muddled” and “untimely” way.
The suit further argues that the Ferguson grand jury was totally special and unique in the annals of criminal history. Thus, its deliberation is “a matter of public significance” and this one grand juror should be able to tell everybody how the grand jury decision was reached.
“Right now there are only 12 people who can’t talk about the evidence out there,” ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said, according to the Mail.
“The people who know the most — those 12 people are sworn to secrecy,” he added.
“The rules of secrecy must yield because this is a highly unusual circumstance. The First Amendment prevents the state from imposing a lifetime gag order in cases where the prosecuting attorney has purported to be transparent.”
In December, state Rep. Karla May, a Democrat from St. Louis, suggested that McCulloch “manipulated” the grand jury. She has asked for a state investigation.
In Missouri, grand juries are composed of 12 members. Nine of the 12 grand jurors must vote for an indictment in order for a case to proceed then to an indictment phase.
Criminal prosecutors in Missouri are under no obligation to utilize a grand jury. When they do, though, they must abide by the grand jury’s vote, yea or nay.
At the same time, prosecutors in every U.S. jurisdiction typically wield a very high level of control over the grand juries to which they present evidence.
The St. Louis County prosecutor’s office has offered no comment on the pending suit.
Brown’s death and, ultimately, the decision not to indict Wilson loomed large in the St. Louis area and across the country for months in 2014. The story continues to reverberate.
Ferguson descended into complete chaos on the night in late November when McCulloch announced that Wilson would face no criminal charges for shooting and killing Brown. (RELATED: Total Police Failure Brings Absolute Mayhem To Ferguson After Grand Jury Announcement)
In August, in the weeks following Brown’s death, several consecutive, intense nights of violence bubbled up in Ferguson. (RELATED: Looting And Destruction In Ferguson; National Guard On Its Way)