Q&A: A look at a Minneapolis police shooting, the next steps

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Posted: Mar 17, 2016 6:42 PM
Q&A: A look at a Minneapolis police shooting, the next steps

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota prosecutor has announced he won't use a grand jury to decide whether two police officers should be charged in a black man's November shooting death. Here are some details about the Minneapolis case and a look at how grand juries work:

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SHOOTING?

Police say officers were called to an assault on Nov. 15 and arrived to find Jamar Clark, 24, interfering with paramedics who were trying to help the female victim. They say the officers tried to calm him, but there was a struggle. The head of the Minneapolis police union has said Clark, a suspect in the assault, was shot after he put his hands on an officer's weapon. But some people who witnessed the shooting have said Clark was handcuffed.

Clark died a day later.

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ARE CHARGES BEING CONSIDERED?

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Wednesday he won't use a grand jury and instead will determine for himself whether there's enough evidence to charge officers Mark Ringgenberg, who is white, and Dustin Schwarze, whose race hasn't been released. Freeman has said he hopes to have a decision by the end of March.

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HOW DOES A GRAND JURY WORK?

It varies by state. In Minnesota, a grand jury consists of 16 to 23 randomly picked people who decide whether there's enough evidence to indict someone for a crime. Prosecutors present evidence and the grand jury makes its decision in private. Prosecutors in Minnesota are required to use grand juries in cases where the offense is punishable by life in prison, but they have discretion in other cases.

In Hennepin County, where Minneapolis is located, grand juries have been used in officer-involved shooting cases for more than 40 years, returning no indictments.

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WHY ARE SOME PEOPLE AGAINST GRAND JURIES?

Grand jury proceedings are kept private, raising questions about their transparency. David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said grand juries are seen as a tool of prosecutors. While grand jury members may be independent, they are only given evidence the prosecutor wants them to see, he said.

"Nobody thinks of the grand jury as some kind of unbiased, investigative body," Harris said. "The people are unbiased, but the process is totally one-sided."

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WHAT ABOUT OTHER CASES?

Public skepticism grew after grand juries declined to indict police officers in the high-profile deaths of blacks in other cities, including the fatal 2014 shootings of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland and 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the 2014 chokehold death of 43-year-old Eric Garner in New York.

But grand juries have reached indictments in other cases. A South Carolina officer was indicted in the death of 50-year-old Walter Scott, who was shot and killed while fleeing a traffic stop. In Chicago, a grand jury indicted an officer on murder charges in the 2014 death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. In both cases, the shootings were captured on video. Harris said having video means police can't control the narrative.

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WHAT'S THE REACTION TO THE MINNESOTA PROSECUTOR'S DECISION?

Members of the Twin Cities Coalition 4 Justice 4 Jamar Clark have been protesting at Freeman's office weekly, demanding that a grand jury not be used. They credited community pressure for Freeman's decision.

Coalition members said Thursday that Freeman made a step in the right direction, but they won't be satisfied until the officers are prosecuted — and convicted. The group is holding a community meeting Saturday to organize its next steps.

"Police should be prosecuted in some kind of way," said Clark's adoptive father, James Clark, who spoke at the protesters' news conference Thursday. "That's a 24-year-old kid, laying on the ground. ... I wouldn't do a dog like that."

Harris said community members often see the system as rigged, but convictions are the result of evidence.

"If the prosecutor doesn't have the evidence, he ... shouldn't go forward with the case," Harris said, adding that it may not please protesters, but "that's the law."

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Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti . More of her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/amy-forliti .