ST. LOUIS (CN) - A lifetime gag order about the experience of serving on the Michael Brown grand jury violates free-speech rights, one such juror claims in Federal Court.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the federal complaint Monday on behalf of the juror, known only as Grand Juror Doe, against St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch.
The grand jury was responsible for reviewing the evidence in the Aug. 9, 2014 shooting of Brown to determine whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. A no true bill verdict that the grand jury returned on Nov. 24 sparked widespread rioting and looting in Ferguson.
Doe's complaint says McCulloch's release of all of the evidence presented, "with heavy redactions and the absence of context," does not adequately portray the proceedings before the grand jury.
"Plaintiff would like to speak about the experience of being a grand juror, including expressing plaintiff's opinions about the evidence and the investigation, and believes plaintiff's experience could contribute to the current public dialogue concerning race relations," the complaint states. "In plaintiff's view, the current information available about the grand jurors' views is not entirely accurate - especially the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges. Moreover, the public characterization of the grand jurors' view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with plaintiff's own. Plaintiff also wishes to express opinions about: whether the release of records has truly provided transparency; plaintiff's impression that evidence was presented differently than in other cases, with the insinuation that Brown, not Wilson, was the wrongdoer; and questions about whether the grand jury was clearly counseled on the law."
Breaking a grand jury oath of silence in Missouri is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The ACLU seeks an injunction prohibiting McCulloch from enforcing the law on Doe.
Doe believes sharing his or her experiences can help educate the public in how grand juries work and effect legislative change in how grand juries are conducted in Missouri.
Any expressive conduct would not influence fellow grand jurors to vote for an indictment nor would it cause Wilson to flee, Doe added.
Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, noted Supreme Court precedent "that grand jury secrecy must be weighed against the juror's First Amendment rights on a case-by-case basis."
"The rules of secrecy must yield because this is a highly unusual circumstance," Rothert said in a statement. "The First Amendment prevents the state from imposing a life-time gag order in cases where the prosecuting attorney has purported to be transparent."
McCulloch spokesperson Edward Magee said in an email that, since McCulloch has not been served with this lawsuit, he has no comment at this time.