Opinion writer

This month I broke a story here at The Watch about St. Louis County removing a grand jury foreman who formerly worked for the Missouri ACLU. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch now has more details, pulled from court fillings in the case.

The St. Louis County grand jury foreman dismissed from the panel last month had drawn attention with his questioning of a county police officer, formerly on the Ferguson force, about what he knew about corrupt cops, according to recently filed court documents.

A prosecutor who could not deter him called Judge Steven Goldman, who admonished the juror to stick to the case at hand. Later, after a complaint by Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, Goldman removed the juror altogether.

The documents filed this week provide a detailed look at a controversy that has raised questions about a grand jury’s independence and sanctity, and whether the juror can be considered biased for working as an ACLU lawyer on cases challenging McCulloch’s office on matters related to Ferguson and otherwise.

The juror, using the pseudonym John Roe, is suing to regain the post.

The thing is, grand juries are supposed to be independent bodies with the power to investigate whatever they please. If that’s true, I don’t see how Goldman or McCulloch should be able to remove him simply because he wanted to investigate corrupt cops. The converse is also true: If a grand jury foreman can be removed because a judge or prosecutors doesn’t like what the grand jury is looking into, then grand juries aren’t independent. That’s sort of the essence of the word independence.

The article states that the foreman had concerns that prosecutors might be spying on him, either through microphones in the jury room or on social media. The implication is that this guy was so paranoid that he was unfit to lead the grand jury. Perhaps those fears do sound paranoid, although there’s no indication in the article that other grand jurors complained about him. In the end, Goldman and McCulloch only confirmed the guy’s underlying concern — that McCulloch didn’t trust him, wanted to control what he looked into and therefore wanted him booted from the grand jury.

Goldman also apparently wrote that he was concerned about the foreman’s “bias against prosecutors.” If you know even a little bit about grand juries, you’ll know that they’re rather notorious for doing whatever prosecutors tell them. This one time, a grand jury was led by someone who may have been skeptical of law enforcement, and perhaps was even willing to use his position to look into public corruption, or possibly police brutality. And he was swiftly removed.

Remember, when McCulloch announced that the grand jury had failed to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, he emphasized the independence and integrity of the grand jury system. But if McCulloch can have anyone he dislikes removed from the body, the institution clearly lacks both.