Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation making California the first state to ban the use of grand juries to decide whether police officers should face criminal charges when they kill people in the line of duty. The San Jose Mercury News says the ban, which will go into effect next year, comes after grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, made controversial decisions in secret hearings last year not to bring charges against officers who killed unarmed black men, prompting nationwide protests. Calls for transparency also have come amid national concerns about disparate treatment of blacks and other racial minorities when encounters with cops turned deadly in Baltimore, Cincinnati and South Carolina.
“What the governor’s decision says is, he gets it — the people don’t want secrecy when it comes to officer-involved shootings,” said retired judge and former San Jose independent police auditor LaDoris Cordell, the first African-American judge in Northern California and a key supporter of the bill. “We’re not trying to get more officers indicted. We’re saying, ‘Whatever you decide, do it in the open.'” The grand jury ban accomplishes officially what many California district attorneys are doing already: deciding themselves whether to bring criminal charges against police officers rather than presenting evidence in a closed hearing to a grand jury and letting the panel decide. The governor also signed a bill that makes it clear it is legal to take a photograph or video of a police officer while the officer is in a public place or in a place the person photographing the action has a right to be. Both bills are the first of a wave of Ferguson-inspired criminal justice reforms now making their way through the legislature.