Panel: AG’s office should investigate fatal police shootings

A task force issued recommendations for improving public trust in the judicial system.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office should have exclusive authority to investigate and prosecute police lethal use of force cases, according to a panel formed by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

That suggestion was one of 10 issued by the 18-member Task Force to Examine Improvements to the Ohio Grand Jury System in hopes of improving the public's trust and confidence in the grand jury system.

Turning over the potential prosecution of law enforcement personnel to a state agency not tied to local prosecutors was one way to ensure the public’s trust, said Ohio Rep. Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton), a committee member.

“I think there was a sentiment to say, ‘Hey, we really need to kind of address that real and perceived (notion) and create some kind of objectivity and some space,’ ” Strahorn said Thursday. “I think that part of the recommendation does that.”

The group including judges, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, law professors, legislators, a law enforcement member and community leaders also made a key recommendation for establishing a process for the release of the grand jury record under limited circumstances.

Task force member and Greene County Common Pleas Court Judge Stephen Wolaver said if that was Ohio’s law now, testimony from the grand jury in the John Crawford III case could become public record.

In September 2014, the Greene County special grand jury declined to indict Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams in connection with shooting and killing of the 22-year-old Fairfield resident. Wolaver presided over that grand jury selection process.

Attorney Michael Wright, who represents Crawford’s family in a federal civil case, recently was turned down by visiting Judge John Bessey when asking for a transcript of the testimony of Williams and Beavercreek police Sgt. David Darkow.

“If this rule is changed, that decision would probably be different,” Wolaver said Thursday. “The current status of the law, I think the judge’s decision is consistent with that law. … If this new suggested change were to become a new rule, I think the ability to have access to that would significantly be enhanced.”

Other recommendations included educational and outreach programs to improve the public’s understanding and independent nature of a grand jury.

Strahorn said the recommendations could be taken up by the appropriate legislative and rules committees all in an effort to give the public faith in the judicial process, especially when it involves police shootings.

“What you see play out in Dallas is what we did not want to happen,” Strahorn said. “We didn’t want people to feel so frustrated or feel so disregarded that then you have” a sniper killing five officers.