Police grand jury bill passes Senate hurdle

A proposal to curtail Georgia police officers’ ability to influence grand jurors in police shooting cases passed a critical state Senate committee vote on Tuesday.

But the Senate Judicial Non-Civil committee voted down a proposal that would have required a special prosecutor to be named anytime a fatal police shooting occurs in Georgia. That measure faced stiff opposition from the state’s district attorneys and law enforcement community, many who spoke out in opposition on Monday.

The grand jury bill, however, moved forward with a unanimous committee vote and is expected to face a full Senate vote before the General Assembly session is scheduled to end March 24.

“It made some advance,” said Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, a committee member who had wanted the special prosecutor provision included in the grand jury bill. “I was not happy with it. I was not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The proposal would curtail some of the most generous legal privileges afforded to officers anywhere in the country. Georgia law currently allows officers accused of possible crimes to sit in the grand jury hearing, listen to all the evidence against them and make a statement at the end that can’t be questioned or challenged by prosecutors. No other state allows such broad and favorable privileges for officers who appear before a grand jury to face possible charges.

A version of the proposal, House Bill 941, has already been approved by the state House. It still allows officers who face possible charges to offer a statement to grand jurors, but they would not be allowed in the grand jury room the entire proceeding and would face cross-examination.

Critics of the proposal say it doesn’t go far enough to erase a legal double-standard that has allowed Georgia officers to escape prosecution for years. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation in December identified 171 fatal police shootings of Georgia citizens since 2010 without any officer facing prosecution.

House Bill 941 was a response to try to curb some of the rules that favor officers, but critics say it was negotiated by police and prosecutors without input from the public or activists concerned about police violence.

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