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New York Times

Inside a secret legal process that can protect police from prosecution

New York — Her emotional voice, New York Attorney General Letitia James stepped into the pedestal of a church in Rochester in February and the grand jury refused to prosecute police officers involved in the death of a black man. I announced that I did. Their management. “I was disappointed — very disappointed,” James said. Her office presented the jury with what the police called an extensive investigation into the death of Daniel Prud, a man pinned face down on the pavement until he lost consciousness. “We wanted a different result than what the grand jury handed us today,” James said. Sign up for the morning newsletter from the New York Times However, the minutes of the grand jury, publicly released by the judge last month at James’ request, tell a more complicated story. Grand jury proceedings remain almost always secret, and records of investigations into Prud’s death are unusual for the internal workings of the criminal justice system at a crucial moment in the ongoing national debate over police liability. Provide an opinion. In grand jury proceedings, prosecutors usually file unilateral proceedings in the hope of securing criminal accusations. However, during the investigation into Proud’s death, a lawyer in James’s office effectively acted as a prosecution and defense, telling the grand jury that its purpose was to investigate the facts, not necessarily to prosecute. I chose to tell and present both sides of the case. Some of the witnesses called by the prosecutor appeared to have exempted police officers from cheating. The revelation specifically prompted intense criticism of James and was more widely angry at legal proceedings that often seemed to protect police from criminal consequences. The writings highlight the important role that grand juries play in deciding whether police officers will be prosecuted or not prosecuted more often for fatal encounters. Records also reveal prosecutors’ specific challenges, even for law enforcement officers like James, who campaigned for criminal justice reform and sued the NYPD for handling protests caused by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I am doing it. At the grand jury hearing, only the prosecutor can call witnesses, and the jury does not hear from the defense. In cases involving Prud’s death, a prosecutor at James’ office called a police trainer to testify that the police officers detaining him did not violate the Protocol with their skills. State lawyers also introduced California doctors known to defend police action. He said police officers did not cause Proud’s death. Another expert witness, a South Carolina professor, testified that after police stopped resistance, he used unjustified force because he did not roll Prud on his back. The prosecution also asked two police officers facing the possibility of prosecution why they resorted to actual detention rather than exacerbating the situation or showing more compassion. .. At least one jury had a hard time adjusting the conflicting testimony. “One expert seemed to have the opinion that nothing was wrong was done,” said a jury whose name was edited from a brush record. “And another expert had the opinion that there were some — something wasn’t done properly, am I right?” The prosecution told the jury, who He said it was the jury’s job to decide whether to believe. A copy released a few days before Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in Rochester for the rekindled anger of Floyd’s murder, the exposure surrounding Prud’s death touched on fierce protests last year. Citing the writing record, some community leaders accused James’ office of deliberately filing a weak proceeding. In an interview, James said the investigation was a serious effort to help the jury reach independent conclusions. “It was very important for the grand jury to carry out a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the facts,” she said, and the result is a law that gives police officers widespread protection for exerting deadly forces on their jobs. I added that it was the result of. “These are very difficult cases to investigate and prosecute, but in the end we will respect the grand jury’s decision,” James said. “All of us continue to be disappointed with the entire criminal justice system.” On Friday, James proposed a law she said would increase police accountability. The proposal includes allowing police officers to use force only as a last resort and providing criminal penalties for police officers who violate the guidelines. Prosecutors can present all sides to the grand jury when there is potential for strong defenses, especially with the potential for police misconduct. By doing so, you can show how the jury reacts to the evidence. South Carolina expert Geoffrey Alpert, who testified before the Grand Jury in Rochester, said it would be difficult for James prosecutors to determine if they had presented the strongest case possible. “If the grand jury’s purpose was to get an indictment, no, they could have called another witness,” Alpert said in an interview. “If the grand jury’s purpose was to give the jury several different perspectives, they did.” But one police lawyer, Michael Siano, told him that he was a prosecutor. Said he seemed to have filed a defense lawsuit. “The prosecutor has learned the case we would have had anyway,” Schiano said. “They wore the witnesses we would have had if there was a jury trial.” Records show that two of the three Rochester police officers faced the possibility of prosecution. It shows that a person testified before the grand jury. Investigative subjects rarely testify, but legal experts said it was more common in cases involving police, especially when police claimed to have acted for self-defense. Police officers testified that they decided to use their power after Proud did not follow their instructions to stay on the ground. “We told him to calm down, and he’s telling us that he wants to bring our gun,” said one of the officers whose name was edited in a copy. It was. “And we tell him to stop, and he’s still trying to get up.” Proud became emotionally unstable on March 23, 2020, shortly after sprinting from his brother’s house. I encountered the Rochester police. Fearing the safety of Proud, his brother called 911. The responding police officer found Proud a few blocks away. He spit naked and claimed to have the coronavirus. They handcuffed his head with a mesh hood or spitting socks and pressed his head against the pavement until he lost consciousness. It was snowing, but no one covered or helped him when he vomited, as shown by body camera footage. Proud died a week later. Inspector General determined that his death was caused by factors including oxygen deficiency and PCP drug addiction. Body camera footage showed that Proud was even more upset after the policeman put the hood on his head. Police said they were afraid to get infected with the coronavirus. Karen Friedman Agniphilo, a former senior official at the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, defends James, saying the prosecutor’s ability to prosecute Rochester police officers is limited due to the widespread legal protection provided to police. did. “This will continue to happen over and over again until the law changes,” said Friedman Agniphilo. Minnesota prosecutors did not have to rely on a grand jury to prosecute Chauvin. Their counterparts in about half of all states, including New York, can only file a felony after convincing the grand jury that there is a possible cause for the crime. This is a fairly routine exercise. If the defendant is a police officer, the results are less certain. Approximately 1,000 people die each year in encounters with law enforcement agencies in the United States, but few police officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter for work-related deaths. Only one-third have been convicted. Six years ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo indicts the Attorney General’s office after a Staten Island grand jury did not indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who was strangled by police. Established a special unit for. In such a case. The idea was to remove such charges from district attorneys, who often work closely with police. However, according to the Attorney General’s office, only three police officers were indicted in 43 investigations that the unit has investigated since then. About a quarter of the survey remains active. Proud’s family hadn’t seen how he died until summer. The video was released in September after a lawyer requested city officials to publish body camera footage. The apparent cover-up exposure led to the suspension of seven police officers associated with the dismissal of the Rochester police chief. James filed a proceeding with a grand jury shortly thereafter. Records reveal that James has selected an important expert witness. Gary Birke is a San Diego doctor and is usually hired by the police to protect them. (The names of all witnesses were edited in brush records, but some were easily identifiable.) Birke said that the weight of the policeman pushing Prud’s back and legs did not impair his breathing. I testified that. It did not contribute to Proud’s death. In an interview with a local Minneapolis television station last month, Birke said Chauvin was “suspicious” of causing Floyd’s death. Civil rights lawyer Peter Neufeld, who sued police officers, said the prosecutor’s choice of Birke was “incomprehensible,” and he was a trusted defender of the police. “Before you start, you are unfairly undermining your proceedings,” Neufeld said. Vilke did not respond to multiple requests for comments. James said Birke gave an expert opinion and did not teach the grand jury how to vote. However, she added that his comments on Chauvin after the incident, including Proud, were awkward and “take into account future choices.” James personally met with a local black religious leader after the grand jury decided not to prosecute Rochester police officers for murder. Rev. Myra Brown, a minister of the Church of Spiritus Christie, said she confronted James there about her office’s failure to obtain a complaint. James said it was the ethical obligation of her office to reveal all the facts. For people like Brown, James’ words of extreme disappointment are now hollow. “Obviously, she wasn’t disappointed enough to send us an actual scholarship, at least presenting an airtight proceeding to get us prosecuted,” Brown said. This article was originally published in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company