ST. LOUIS – A member of the grand jury that declined to indict the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown cannot speak out about her experience, a Missouri judge has ruled.
St. Louis County Circuit Judge Ellen Ribaudo said in a ruling Tuesday that the grand jury process "depends upon secrecy and anonymity."
St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who led the grand jury, on Friday hailed the ruling. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Anthony Rothert, who sued on behalf of the grand juror, said an appeal is planned.
Brown, who was 18, black and unarmed, was fatally shot on Aug. 9, 2014, by white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson, spurring angry protests that lasted for weeks. Violent demonstrations broke out again in November 2014 when McCulloch announced that a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Wilson, who resigned that month.
The lawsuit alleged that McCulloch wrongly implied that all 12 jurors believed there was no support for any charges. Under Missouri law, an indictment requires agreement by nine of the panel's dozen members, and grand jurors are sworn to secrecy under the threat of contempt or other charges.
The juror was seeking the right to speak publicly about her time on the grand jury. But Ribaudo ruled that the law is clear.
"Complete transparency is anathema to the very nature of a grand jury, which depends upon secrecy and anonymity for its proper functioning," Ribaudo wrote.
"Confidentiality is paramount to the proper functioning of the grand jury and the protection of the public, witnesses, the accused and the grand jurors themselves," McCulloch said in a statement.
But Rothert said it was McCulloch who voided the secrecy of the process with his own public statements about the grand jury deliberations.
"It is unfortunate that the circuit court overlooked the fact that Mr. McCulloch has already destroyed the traditional secrecy of the grand jury in this case by making public misrepresentations about its deliberations and that taking an oath to serve as a grand juror is not a voluntary choice," Rothert said in a statement.
The lawsuit was originally filed in federal court. The federal case is on hold until litigation in the state court is complete, Rothert said.