As the world watches the reaction in Louisville to a grand jury’s decision to not indict two police officers for the killing of Breonna Taylor, Indianapolis is anticipating the response once the Dreasjon Reed Grand Jury reports its findings.
Reed was shot to death by IMPD Officer De’Joure Mercer May 6th when the patrolman said the fleeing man fired a gun at him during a foot chase near the 6200 block of North Michigan Road.
Madison County Deputy Prosecutor Rosemary Khoury was assigned as the Special Prosecutor of the investigation and last month she referred the case to the Marion County Grand Jury.
Khoury’s appointment came after Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears stepped away from the case.
“I can understand where an elected official would say, ‘I don’t want to make this decision. I want it to be made by the community.’ said former Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Ralph Staples. “You run for office, you want the job, you got the job to make those tough calls.”
A grand jury is made up of six anonymous people, sworn to secrecy, who do their work behind closed doors which, except for the most extraordinary of circumstances, will never be revealed.
“It is possible that we will never know what happened in that grand jury room and why those grand jurors reached those decisions,” predicted Staples. “The community is demanding transparency and the grand jury is not a transparent body. It’s all secret.”
Traditionally, a grand jury is appointed for a year and meets quarterly either to elicit testimony from reluctant witnesses in a case to be filed with a common Probable Cause Affidavit or to consider its own Probable Cause as to whether there is evidence less than beyond a reasonable doubt to indict an individual so that a Superior Court jury would hear the case.
“You sit all day and various items are presented to you,” explained Staples who once oversaw the Marion County Grand Jury. “What you’re deciding as a grand juror is whether or not probable cause exists to believe that a crime has been committed, a very low bar.
“As a prosecutor, you can make an opening statement, so they’re not blindsided,” he said. “You present your witnesses at that point. The grand jurors ask questions. You’re the legal advisor. You ask questions.”
Staples said the prosecutor’s role is to present evidence and relevant case law in a neutral manner.
“You open the floor to grand jurors. They then ask questions. The witness is then excused. You may have a conversation which is recorded about the testimony of that witness,” he said. “The grand jurors can make demands of you as their legal advisor. ‘We want to hear him again. Bring him back. We have more questions.’
“You have to have faith that your prosecutor will use all the relevant evidence so that their decision is based on everything, not just on the old joke about indicting a ham sandwich, ‘I’m gonna give you just enough of what you need to indict or not indict as I want you to do.’”
As in the Breonna Taylor case, the investigation into the death of Dreasjon Reed may rely on the grand jury’s understanding of relevant case law regarding an officer’s right to self-defense in the line of duty.
“The prosecutor should go over self-defense, because self-defense was an issue down in Louisville,” said Staples. “They should be read that statute.
“You want to be very careful about giving them information about whether this person was acting in self- defense.
Staples presented several officer-involved shooting cases before grand jurors in both Lake and Marion counties.
“And grand jurors would ask, ‘What is the standard that we are to use in terms of assessing this officer’s performance?’ and that’s what we would explain to them.
“Was the officer in fear, in someone using self-defense, fear of bodily harm, while discharging his duties? Was he in fear of death? Was his use of force in response to what was reasonable fear of that injury or death?
“It’s not as easy as people make it seem.”
Staples said in a relatively simple case, for instance, a fatal officer-involved shooting, with limited witnesses and evidence, the Grand Jury could wrap up its work in one day and vote on whether probable cause existed that the officer broke the law and charges should be filed.
“An indictment could be filed, and an announcement could be made at six, seven or eight o’clock,” he said. “If I’m a prosecutor and I get a controversial indictment or No Bill after hours, I’m gonna sit on it until the next day and make an announcement when I’ve had time to prepare. You have to be realistic about these things. ‘Do I have to call the chief of police, say you have to mobilize SWAT, or do I need to say, okay, we got an indictment, we need to make arrangements to have so-and-so turn himself in?’ Its only practical to do it that way to avoid problems.
“Let’s say the officer [is] not indicted. The officer who was the target of the investigation is not indicted. I’m not a betting man, but I would bet there’s gonna be someone downtown who’s gonna be upset about it and who’s not gonna protest peacefully and will want to cause problems.”
Staples remains active as a high-profile Indianapolis defense attorney more than a decade after leaving the prosecutor’s office and, as a result, is a keen observer of the system with many sources in the law enforcement criminal justice communities.
He’s been watching the Reed case for several months.
“Based on what I know of the case and, again, this is not witness testimony, this is what I have read and, I’m not gonna lie, I’ve talked to some people who know some things about the case, based on those conversations and what I’ve read, I would be surprised if the officer were indicted. I would be very surprised if he were indicted.”