A member of the grand jury that declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August sued the prosecutor in the case Monday, accusing him of mischaracterizing the grand jury proceedings.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the lawsuit in federal court against St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch on behalf of an unnamed juror, identified only as “Grand Juror Doe,” who wants to speak about the investigation but would be in violation of Missouri law by doing so.
"Right now there are only 12 people who can't talk about the evidence out there," ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said. "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."
The lawsuit questions McCulloch's characterization that "all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges" against officer Wilson, who shot Brown on August 9 and has since resigned from the police department.
The suit also claims that evidence was presented to the grand jury in a manner markedly different than in previous cases heard by the same grand jury, with the “insinuation” that Brown was the “wrongdoer” rather than Wilson.
Additionally, the suit claims the prosecutor's office presented applicable laws to grand jurors "in a muddled and untimely manner," unlike presentations in other cases.
That argument mirrors what political commentators had argued in the days following the grand jury’s announcement.
"McCulloch gave Wilson’s case special treatment. He turned it over to the grand jury, a rarity itself, and then used the investigation as a document dump, an approach that is virtually without precedent in the law of Missouri or anywhere else," Jeffrey Toobin wrote in the New Yorker in November. "Buried underneath every scrap of evidence McCulloch could find, the grand jury threw up its hands and said that a crime could not be proved."
Brown's death and the grand jury's decision not to indict Wilson, along with other cases of alleged police brutality across the country, have triggered months of protests over police treatment of African-Americans in the U.S.
The St. Louis grand jury — comprised of nine whites and three blacks — met on 25 days over three months, hearing more than 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses. Those witnesses included medical examiners and experts on blood, toxicology and firearms, according to McCulloch.
Monday’s lawsuit also contends that McCulloch's public statements about the decision not to indict were not “entirely accurate,” including the “implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges.”
"The Supreme Court has said that grand jury secrecy must be weighed against the juror's First Amendment rights on a case-by-case basis," Rothert said. "The rules of secrecy must yield because this is a highly unusual circumstance. The First Amendment prevents the state from imposing a lifetime gag order in cases where the prosecuting attorney has purported to be transparent."
McCulloch's spokesman, Ed Magee, said his office had not seen the lawsuit and declined immediate comment.
Al Jazeera and wire services