Editorial: Release grand jury records
Published Nov. 27, 2014
If prosecutors in Ferguson, Mo., could release all grand jury documents and evidence related to the death of Michael Brown, we see no reason special prosecutor Dan K. Webb in Chicago can’t do the same for all records in the David Koschman case.
After a grand jury reached its decision not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch made public thousands of pages of normally confidential testimony, photos and exhibits.
Critics of the Ferguson investigation question McCulloch’s motives. But there is no doubt he had the right to do it.
Similarly, Webb has the right to go to Cook County Circuit Judge Michael P. Toomin and ask that the grand jury files in the Koschman case be made public.
For years, law officers covered up the circumstances surrounding Koschman’s death in 2004 because, it is clear, the man who fatally punched him was a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Chicagoans deserve to know how that happened — and how likely it is that such a cover-up could happen again. Information in the grand jury records could help tell that story.
There is a strong public interest in the release of this information, and little reason to keep it private.
Grand jury investigations are secret to protect the reputations of accused people who turn out to be innocent and to prevent the undermining of further investigations.
But when he concluded his probe, Webb didn’t say there were innocent people who needed to be shielded. He said only that the statute of limitations precluded further charges.
And, since Webb has ended his work, any further investigation cannot be compromised.
There remains a question of whether federal authorities will step in to examine the possibility of civil rights violations. But federal authorities also are contemplating doing so in Ferguson, where the records already have been released.
Lawyers for Koschman’s mother, Nanci Koschman, have brought a federal court case that ultimately could result in the release of records, but U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer dismissed the case earlier this year, saying the statute of limitations had run out for filing the lawsuit and also saying she doesn’t have the authority to order Toomin to release the records. An appeal is pending.
We don’t have to wait for the conclusion of that case. Webb can act now, and he should.
This isn’t a case examining the actions of ordinary citizens but, rather, of public servants for whose actions we ultimately are responsible.
Some minor information, such as home addresses of police officers, might need to be redacted before the full file is released. But the rest should be placed in the public’s hands, without delay.