Judge: Release grand jury material to Michael Brown's family

AP News
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Posted: Jun 06, 2016 5:36 PM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Michael Brown's family will get unredacted transcripts of grand jury proceedings involving the officer who killed the 18-year-old, a federal judge said Monday, marking the first time someone other than a prosecutor or grand juror will see uncensored details of the secret proceedings.

U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber's protective order spelling out terms of the release requires St. Louis County prosecutors to hand over the testimony and the names of grand jury witnesses to attorneys for Brown's family, which is pressing a wrongful-death lawsuit. The order bars the attorneys designated to see the grand jury items from making any of them public, lest they be jailed for contempt.

The grand jury's November 2014 decision to not indict white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for shooting Brown, who was black and unarmed, rekindled often-violent protests that immediately followed Brown's death three months earlier. Wilson later resigned.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch publicly released heavily redacted transcripts of the grand jury testimony, but he refused to release the names of witnesses, who were promised anonymity.

An attorney for McCulloch's office, Linda Wasserman, had opposed the disclosure request and later sought to limit it. In a recent court filing, she cited "continued grave concerns, in light of the lives at stake, regarding the efficacy of a protective order in controlling the short-term and long-term threat of personal harm to innocent persons called as witnesses in this case."

Monday's order also calls for authorities to release unredacted transcripts of witness interviews, written statements obtained by St. Louis County police, audio-record transcripts and autopsy and scene photographs not previously disclosed.

"We now get the chance to have an unblemished look at who said what to whom and under what context," Anthony Gray, the family's attorney, told The Associated Press. "We consider this to be a huge development in the case — very significant and monumental in terms of discovery."

Brown's parents are suing Wilson, the city of Ferguson and its former police chief, Thomas Jackson.

Peter Dunne, an attorney for the defendants, declined to discuss Monday's order, saying he did "not want to get sideways with the court" by speaking publicly about it.

"It was done with a tremendous amount of concern expressed by the judge and others about making sure that proper balance was struck between the need for the information and concerns expressed by people who frankly didn't want information about them disclosed," Dunne said.

Gray called the uncensoring of grand jury testimony a long time coming, saying his clients "stood down" from pursuing the matter as the county and U.S. Department of Justice investigated Brown's death.

"We didn't want to interfere with or hinder the criminal investigation," Gray said.

The Justice Department ultimately declined to prosecute Wilson but found significant racial bias in Ferguson's criminal justice system, leading to a settlement in March between the Justice Department and Ferguson over reforms.