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Ferguson grand jury member files lawsuit to lift lifetime gag order

A member of the grand jury that decided in November not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, filed a federal lawsuit on Monday challenging a gag order that prevents jurors from speaking about court proceedings.

All members of the grand jury who heard the case are subject to a lifetime gag order. The suit is being brought against St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, who would be the one to bring criminal charges against any member who breaks the order. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is representing the plaintiff, who is referred to in the lawsuit as “Grand Juror Doe.”

The suit contends that McCulloch incorrectly implied that all of the jurors believed there was no evidence to support charges of manslaughter or murder against Wilson, a white police officer who shot unarmed 18-year-old Brown, who was black, in August. The grand jury consisted of nine white and three black members. Nine members needed to reach a consensus to determine whether Wilson would have been indicted.

According to the lawsuit, the juror alleges that “the investigation of Wilson had a stronger focus on the victim [Brown] than in other cases presented to the grand jury.” The juror also contends that legal standards were discussed in a “muddled” and “untimely” manner.

“Right now there are only 12 people who can talk about the evidence out there,” said ACLU attorney Tony Rothert. “The people who know the most – those 12 people are sworn to secrecy. What [the grand juror] wants is to be able to be part of the conversation.” No other grand jurors have spoken publicly about the case.

The lawsuit only seeks to lift the gag order in this specific case.

“We are not saying there should never be grand jury secrecy,” Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, said to The Wall Street Journal. “In this particular case, we believe it is unconstitutional for there to be a lifetime gag order on the grand jurors.”

According to Ed Magee, a spokesman for McCulloch, the prosecutor has not yet been served, and therefore had no comment.

In December, McCullouch participated in a radio interview on KTRS and admitted that he knowingly allowed witnesses to lie on the stand, but would not pursue any charges of perjury. Also last month, state Rep. Karla May (D), requested that a joint House and Senate committee investigate whether McCulloch committed prosecutorial misconduct in this case.