Consolidated Grand Jury Process Draws Some Criticism


(Bill Oxford/Unsplash)
By 
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

The Douglas County District Court has convened a consolidated grand jury to review 15 in-custody deaths and deaths that occurred during police actions.

Presiding District Court Judge Horacio J. Wheelock announced the grand jury Monday in a news release. Douglas County Attorney Donald W. Kleine was presenting evidence to the grand jury related to each of the deaths.

The grand jury process includes the death of Kenneth Jones, who Omaha Police Department officers shot Nov. 20, 2020, near 27th and Harrison streets during a traffic stop. Police said Jones, who was Black, repeatedly didn’t comply with commands and was reaching for a gun in his waistband.

Jones’ death prompted protests outside the Omaha Police Department headquarters downtown. After a few days, Police Chief Todd Schmaderer held a news conference at which he showed several photos from the traffic stop. He said the full video wouldn’t be released until after the grand jury proceedings.

Jasmine Harris, a candidate for mayor, issued a news release decrying Wheelock’s announcement that Jones’ death would be reviewed alongside 14 others.

“This closed-door process lacks transparency and accountability to Omahans who want further investigation into the deaths of Kenneth Jones and other residents. This impacts people across the city, not just members of the grand jury,” Harris said in the release. Harris added: “The idea that these fifteen unique incidents should be lumped together in a closed-door process, each representing an individual person and set of circumstances, is unacceptable and disrespectful to Omahans.”

Wheelock’s statement cited a court’s order that limited in-person access to the court as a COVID-19 pandemic safety measure.

“It would be beneficial, efficient, and cost effective to the citizens of Douglas County to consolidate the investigation and review of each incident by a single grand jury,” the court’s statement said.

The grand jury will investigate each death and determine whether formal charges should be made against any person for committing a crime connected to the death. By law, the grand jury’s work is conducted in secret and jurors take an oath to keep secret the discussion of the grand jury’s deliberations.

In addition to Jones, the deaths being reviewed are:

• Michael Truscott — Sept. 18, 2018;

• Terrance Newsome — Aug. 22, 2019;

• Jessica Wolfe — Oct. 12, 2019;

• Robert Jensen — Oct. 12, 2019;

• Jesus Munoz — Jan. 25, 2020;

• Carmichael Elya — Feb. 4, 2020;

• Terry Hudson — Dec. 31, 2019;

• Brittany Madson — May 9, 2020;

• Ryan Kortus — May 31, 2020;

• Calvin Strong — May 30, 2020;

• Domonique Allen — July 11, 2020;

• Bentley Bruckner — Feb. 26, 2020;

• Trista Schaefer — Oct. 28, 2020; and

• Daniel Walton — Dec. 5, 2020;

The grand jury’s decision regarding each case will be filed in the Office of the Clerk of the District Court in Douglas County.

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