In a twist that no one saw coming, it has been revealed that the Ohio grand jury that chose not to bring charges against the police officers who killed Tamir Rice never actually voted on whether or not to indict Cleveland officers.
Cleveland Scene magazine reported on Wednesday that according to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, exactly how the grand jury “declined to indict” police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback is as unclear as it is uncommon.
Usually, at the end of a grand jury, a vote is taken and a decision is made to either bring charges through a “true bill,” or not to bring charges through a “no bill.” A document called a “no-bill notification” is then kept on file. However, Scene was unable to locate any trace of such a document in the Tamir Rice proceedings.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty never actually spoke the words “no bill” during his December press conference, instead, he said the grand jury had “declined to indict” the officers.
Eventually, after several days of phone calls to various government offices inquiring about the document, Joe Frolik, the communications director for the Prosecutor’s Office, spoke with Scene. According to Frolik, there is not a record of a no-bill document. “It’s technically not a no-bill because they didn’t vote on charges.”
“This was an investigative grand jury. This was kind of their role. Sometimes, a grand jury, after its investigation, will decide if there are no votes to be taken on charges.”
McGinty had never used the term “investigational grand jury” before in either his reports pertaining to the proceedings of the case or in any statements he made publicly, and there is still no record of how the decision not to file charges was reached.
Professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State, whose specialty is in criminal law, explained what the term “investigational grand jury means.”
Prosecutors sometimes use [grand juries] as investigative grand juries to determine whether any criminal wrongdoing has happened or not,” he said. “It happens with political corruption cases or very complicated investigations. The Tamir Rice case, that’s how I believe the prosecutor viewed that grand jury. What the grand jury allows you to do is have the power to subpoena documents and call witnesses and have them testify under oath. It allows you to get all the information and investigate whether a crime has occurred. They’re not different legal entities, but they are serving different functions and thus might behave differently.
But if they don’t hold a vote, how do they decide not to hold a vote? And would there be a record of that?” he continued. “It’s not like the prosecutor has the power to prevent the grand jury from voting. If there was no vote on a bill in this case, the prosecutor might have influenced that —- he might have said there’s no reason to even vote because we all agree, or something — but it’s still the grand jury’s decision. It ultimately has the power to consider the facts as they’re aware of. Because of grand jury secrecy rules, though, we can’t know what happened inside that room.
Witmer-Rich said he could not recall any other case that had gone before a grand jury and not ended in a vote. “I’m not aware of an example…It could happen, I suppose, but I’ve never heard anyone talk about that,” he said.
Professor Lewis Katz, a criminal law expert at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said that in his opinion, the grand jury in the Tamir Rice case was not an investigational grand jury, which usually takes place in secret.
When Katz was told that the prosecutor’s office declared after the fact that the grand jury was investigative and no vote was taken, the law expert’s response was simply: “I’m stunned.”
McGinty’s office released the following statement to Scene:
The magazine pointed out the following regarding the investigational grand jury in the Tamir Rice case:
A reminder that court officials, members of the Prosecutor’s Office, lawyers and just about everyone else had no idea that this was what happened in the Rice case. Nor does it address the deficiencies in a policy that asks the grand jury to disagree with the Prosecutor’s recommendation and opinion in order to pursue — or even vote — on charges.
Featured image via EUR This N That