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DA Surprised at Criticism of Grand Jury

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For months, Albuquerque city councilors have listened to tearful testimony from the families of people shot and killed by police.

And they’ve heard from executives in the Police Department, too.

On Monday, it was the top prosecutor’s turn.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg appeared before the council to defend her office’s handling of the grand-jury process used to review police shootings. But she also said she’s open to changes that make it easier for the public to scrutinize the system, though it would take rule or law changes to make that happen.


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In any case, Brandenburg said the system of using investigatory grand juries for police shootings — rather than “target” grand juries, which have the power to issue indictments — should be common knowledge.

Brandenburg said misinformation in the media has cast doubt on the process recently, but it’s been the subject of debate in district-attorney campaigns in 1988, 1992 and 2008.

“I’m kind of surprised I’m explaining the process,” Brandenburg told councilors. “I was under the impression everyone understood it.”

The investigative grand juries used in police shootings don’t have the power to indict officers. Intead they determine whether a shooting was justified. Brandenburg has said that if a shooting merited criminal charges, it would be taken to a regular grand jury.

Still, she said she is open to changes. A panel with representatives from the district attorney, law enforcement and the community could be created, she said. That’s just one example.

“We’re looking at ways to do this in a public forum,” Brandenburg said. “I have full faith in the process, but I also have a clear understanding of the need for a more open process.”

A rule change from the Supreme Court or other action would be necessary to handle shootings differently, she said.

Several city councilors said they’d like to schedule a study session to consider improvements.

Councilor Dan Lewis suggested Brandenburg shouldn’t be surprised at the outcry over the grand-jury process, given that no one can ever recall a grand jury determining that a shooting was unjustified.

“I have hard time believing you’d be surprised and shocked by questions about the process,” Lewis said.