Judge mulls quest for Ferguson grand jury witnesses' names

Grand jury proceedings typically are secret


Associated Press

ST. LOUIS  — A federal judge is considering whether to release the names of witnesses who testified during the grand jury proceedings in the Ferguson police shooting death of Michael Brown.

Attorneys on both sides of the wrongful-death lawsuit by Brown's parents are seeking the identities and pressed for it during a hearing last week, even though the witnesses were promised that their names would remain secret, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

An attorney for St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch's office, which oversaw the grand 2014 jury proceedings and promised the witnesses' anonymity, opposed the request, saying most witnesses agreed to talk only in exchange for confidentiality.

The grand jury's November 2014 decision to not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for shooting Brown rekindled sometimes violent protests that immediately followed Brown's death three months earlier.

Grand jury proceedings typically are secret. But McCulloch, when he publicly announced that Wilson would not be indicted, released details of grand jury witnesses' testimony, without releasing their names.

Kathi Alizadeh, the prosecutor primarily responsible for providing evidence to that grand jury, said in an affidavit that she had promised to protect the names of witnesses, who were brought in to testify via "secret routes." Most witnesses and grand jurors "expressed fears of retribution and/or retaliation because of the public furor and virulent public sentiment" involving the investigation, she wrote.

Lawyers for Brown's family and the lawsuit's defendants — Wilson, the city of Ferguson, and its former police chief, Thomas Jackson — want un-redacted copies of the testimony.

"We already know what was said but we don't know who said it," summarized Anthony Gray, a lawyer for Brown's parents — Michael Brown Sr. and Lezley McSpadden.

Robert Plunkert, one of the defense lawyers, said that while the law bars the release of information about grand jury proceedings, it does not bar the release of other information, including details about the witnesses.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press

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