Keith Higgins, a former Deputy District Attorney in Brunswick, Ga, has been promoting a bill in the Georgia Legislature to reform the way a grand jury will review cases involving police use of deadly force. Late last week, Keith informed us that the Georgia House of Representatives passed HB 941 which creates a new, more transparent and fair process for grand juries investigating police use of deadly force. The bill makes significant procedural improvements. For example, it would require that grand jury proceedings be transcribed and the transcript and evidence be made available to the public if an indictment is not returned. It also allows the prosecutor to cross-examine a police officer who testifies before the grand jury. Unfortunately, however, the HB 941 does not include the most important needed improvement--a requirement that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate and prosecute every case of police use of deadly force. A copy of the bill and a summary of the changes is attached for your information.
The bill is pending in the Georgia Senate, before the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. Keith requests that any of us who are willing send emails to the members of this Committee. Their names and email addresses are below, along with a draft email. You are welcome to use this draft, or any part of it, if you wish. Please send an email soon and forward this request to friends who might help, especially if they live in Georgia! The Legislative Session is scheduled to end on March 24.
Thanks for helping to impress Georgia Senators with the importance of this reform.
HB 941, pending before the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, does not include the single most important change needed to restore justice and fairness in Georgia's current law concerning police use-of-force cases. Specifically, HB 941 should be amended to require a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute all cases involving police use of deadly force.
Recent investigative journalism in Georgia shows convincingly that local district attorneys are reluctant to prosecute local police officers in cases of unreasonable use of deadly force. As a result there is a widespread public perception that a local DA will not vigorously prosecute a local police officer, even in the most blatant cases of unreasonable use of force. A local District Attorney has an understandable, inherent bias against prosecuting local police officers. The DA works closely with local police. Police officers apprehend offenders, collect evidence, and present testimony vital to obtaining convictions. Assistance from local officers is critical to the DA's ability to successfully prosecute crimes. It is clear to any rational observer that a DA would be reluctant to do anything that could damage that relationship, such as by prosecuting a local officer.
The Caroline Small case, alone, demonstrates how the DA's failure to conduct a full and fair grand jury proceeding results in injustice. In Caroline Small's case, Glynn County police forced her automobile off the road and trapped her car between police cars and a telephone pole and fence. She posed no threat to any police officer or bystander. Yet, two police officers fired 8 shots at point blank range through her windshield. The officers then bragged on their marksmanship and told medical personnel not to bother rendering aid. Caroline survived, but died seven days later. The local DA allowed more than one year to pass before bringing the case to a grand jury, failed to present an indictment to the grand jury, allowed defense attorneys to question witnesses in violation of Georgia law, and allowed the police department to present unrebutted inaccurate evidence that appeared to justify the officers' use of deadly force. For more information on this case and links to the most important press reports, see the Justice for Caroline website, www.justiceforcaroline.com.
Please be assured that this request does not reflect an "anti-police" bias. I have a high regard for law enforcement officers and appreciate the dangers they face on a daily basis. Unless the current prosecutorial bias, and public perception of bias is addressed, however, HB 941 will not cure the bias in the current system nor restore public confidence in Georgia's prosecutors or police officers.