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NEW YORK — A groundbreaking bill in the Oregon Legislature would allow testimony in some grand jury investigations to be made public when there is no indictment. The legislation is likely the first of its kind in the country, a search of state statutes indicated. The bill gained urgency after the killing of an unarmed woman, Kendra James, who was attempting to flee the Portland police. A Multnomah County grand jury did not return an indictment against the officer, setting off a public outcry. The bill’s original aim was more limited when it was introduced in March by state Representative Jeff Barker, D-Portland, a retired police lieutenant who spent 31 years in police work. The original goal was to bring Oregon police training and practices into line with the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established the standard for the police use of deadly force. Tennessee v. Garner (471 U.S. 1). Garner limits use of deadly force to situations in which an officer has probable cause to believe that a fleeing suspect poses a threat of serious harm to the officer or to others. Barker’s bill was an uncontroversial attempt to codify that rule, and it passed the house unanimously. On May 5, James was killed by Scott McCollister, a police officer who claimed he feared for his life. McCollister recognized James, 21, who was in the back seat of a car stopped for a traffic violation. She was wanted for failure to appear on charges of attempted drug possession, according to investigative reports. Without removing the keys from the car, McCollister and another officer removed the driver and a front-seat passenger. James climbed over the seat and got behind the wheel. The other officer tried but failed to stun her with a Taser, the report said. McCollister started getting into the front seat on the driver’s side. He claimed that he was 80 percent in when she put it in gear and that he feared he would get dragged to his death. He shot her in the side as he fell back out of the car. Soon after the grand jury did not indict, Sen. John Minnis, R-Fairview, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Portland police detective, proposed the grand jury-transparency amendment to Barker’s bill. The Senate committee approved the amendment and passed the bill on Aug. 23. Efforts to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill were going on when the Senate adjourned two weeks ago for the session. The sponsors confirmed that they will reintroduce the bill in the next session. If approved by both houses, the bill would require that a transcript be made of any grand jury investigation into a public safety officer’s use of deadly force that caused death. If no indictment resulted, the transcript would become public, although any witness could ask a judge to withhold his or her testimony. The bill also would require the publication of the results of prosecutorial investigations that did not go to a grand jury but involved the use of deadly force, lethal or not. Critics have often derided grand juries as rubber stamps for prosecutors who have already made up their minds whether to indict. Witnesses are not subject to cross-examination, and neither their attorneys, nor the lawyers of targets of the investigations, are allowed in the grand jury rooms. Presently, in Oregon, grand jury proceedings are not recorded, said Yamhill County District Attorney Brad Berry, who is vice president of the Oregon District Attorneys Association and chairman of its legislative committee. All federal grand jury proceedings are recorded, as they are in 36 states. Those who are indicted are often able to obtain transcripts of portions of grand jury testimony. Berry asserted that the grand jury system gets a bum rap. “I think grand jurors go places we didn’t want them to go,” he said. “It’s much less a rubber stamp than critics would have you believe. The DAs association took a neutral position on the bill because its members’ views were so diverse, according to Berry. Leonard Post is a reporter for The National Law Journal , a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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