BATON ROUGE, La. (LSU Manship School News Service) - The sponsor of controversial legislation that would require criminal grand juries to review all officer-involved shootings resulting in injury or death deferred her own bill after agreeing to seek the creation of a task force to study it.
Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, proposed the bill after Attorney General Jeff Landry decided not to file criminal charges against the Baton Rouge police officers involved in the 2016 shooting death of Alton Sterling.
Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said the bill would give constituents a larger stake in a criminal justice system that many believe unfairly favors police defendants.
“There is a serious problem when there is an issue with an officer and there is not a will to prosecute,” James said.
However, the symbolic impact of the proposal also might outweigh its practical effect. District attorneys would still have significant influence over the composition of the grand jury, the information it receives and any decision it makes.
Also, the responsibility to prosecute police defendants on any charges levied by the jury would ultimately fall to district attorneys or the attorney general.
Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, said Marcelle’s bill would unconstitutionally circumvent the right of district attorneys and the attorney general to decide which cases to prosecute.
James said the bill would provide “a way out” for district attorneys unwilling to face the negative consequences of pursuing highly-politicized cases against the police departments with which they routinely cooperate.
“Why is it a problem to put it in the hands of the people?” James asked.
“Because it is unconstitutional,” Adams responded. “If you want to put it in the hands of the people, pass a constitutional amendment to do it.”
When asked if he would support such an amendment, Adams said no, “because I think it is a bad idea.”
Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, suggested that Marcelle defer her bill indefinitely and create a task force that would bring together law enforcement and community leaders to recommend a system for reviewing police shootings.
“I have had some experience working police shootings personally,” said Landry, former Louisiana State Police Superintendent. “I think where we are trying to get is to ensure the public have the confidence that these shootings are done in the name of justice rather than the good ol’ boy system.”
Marcelle agreed to shelve her legislation, but first offered her justification for introducing it.
“For one individual to take it in his hands and look at what we all looked at, and thought was despicable and disgusting, and say that there would be no charges is why we are here today,” Marcelle said, adding that Sterling was shot and killed in her district.