Bill would open grand jury proceedings to public

Grand jury proceedings would be subject to increased transparency under a bill heard by the Judiciary Committee Feb. 24.

Currently, the death of a person while in police custody automatically is investigated by a grand jury. LB1055, introduced by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, would require grand juries to create a report explaining the jury’s findings in the event it returns no indictment following an investigation.

Chambers said the secretive nature of the current process has fostered deep public distrust of law enforcement.

“There have been any number of police killings presented to grand juries to investigate police misconduct,” he said. “In many of those incidents, often the grand jury would not hand down an indictment and nothing would be made public from those proceedings.”

Chambers brought an amendment to the bill, which would replace its original provisions. It calls for grand jury reports, decisions not to indict and transcripts of the proceedings to be filed with the court to be available for public review.

Additionally, the prosecuting attorney would select a team of three peace officers trained to investigate homicides. At least two of the officers chosen must be from agencies other than that which is being investigated. The team would file a report of its findings with the prosecuting attorney for review.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine supported the bill. He said it would make the current grand jury process more open while also protecting sensitive information like the names of grand jurors.

“[LB1055 as amended] would ensure that in the investigative process, it won’t just be an agency investigating itself,” Kleine said. “It would allow transparency with regard to the public’s ability to review a transcript and what’s taken place with the grand jurors without disturbing the process itself.”

Joe Kelly, Lancaster County attorney, also supported the bill. He suggested the committee add a provision preventing members of the public from copying or reproducing aspects of a grand jury report, including crime scene and autopsy photos.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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