A recommendation by a task force appointed by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor that the office of the Ohio Attorney General handle grand jury cases in which someone has died as the result of the police use of force sounds sensible to us.
It removes local prosecutors from the mix. Prosecutors usually steer grand juries toward indictments as they present the evidence to them. Because of that, prosecutors often bear the electoral fall-out from the indictments handed down or the lack of them. Transfer of responsibility could dispel the suspicion of conflicts of interest that might result: one that sees the prosecutor, the law enforcement officials and local grand juries all in cahoots.
Racism, even in its most subtle forms, plays a role in confrontations involving mostly white police forces and African Americans. Regardless of the law and its application, it clouds perceptions and it can leave the impression that the law is not color blind.
Shifting the grand jury investigation of such confrontations does not entirely eliminate racism. Removing the immediate parties closest to the incident at least makes it more difficult to conclude that a local law enforcement official or prosecutor was in a position to determine whether an indictment should have been issued.
It is believed the recommendation by the Supreme Court came as the result of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty losing his re-election bid in the March primary, the voting outcome possibly a payback from African American voters who did not like the no indictment decisions by the Cuyahoga County Grand Jury regarding the killing of 12-year old Tamir Rice by a Cleveland police officer, who arrived on the scene and shot the youngster who was waiving a gun that turned out to be a toy.
Whether a grand jury investigation headed up by the office of the Ohio attorney general resulting in no indictments would have made any difference in that election is unknown. At least the local prosecutor, in this case McGinty, could have claimed he had no role in the outcome of the Tamir Rice case.