WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former police officer Philip Stinson isn't surprised that no one is being held criminally responsible for the death of Breonna Taylor.
"The research shows that law enforcement is exempt from law enforcement. In other words, police officers don’t like to arrest other police officers," said Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University. "It’s rare that police officers are investigated. It’s rare that when they are investigated, they are investigated by unbiased and impartial agencies outside of their employers."
Stinson, who collects data on policing, says by his count, since the beginning of 2005, there have been 121 nonfederal sworn law enforcement officers who have been arrested for murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting. Of those 121, to date, only 44 have been convicted of a crime.
"Although these fatal shootings occur on average several times a day across the country, it’s only a handful of times each year when an officer is charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from one of those shootings," said Stinson.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's decision to turn the case over to a grand jury before first making his own charging conclusion is under scrutiny as the Taylor family and demonstrators are demanding the release of the transcripts and the recommendations made to the secret jury. The grand jury decided to only indict former LMPD officer Brett Hankison with wanton endangerment charges. Cameron said the other two officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, were justified in returning fire after Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, shot once at the officers he says he thought were intruders.
"He could have gone directly to a court to ask for their arrest on various charges and he chose not to do that," said Arthur Ago, the director of the criminal justice project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.
According to Ago, there is nothing in the Kentucky code that required Cameron to go to the grand jury first in this case. Cameron could have sought arrest warrants for the police officers before bringing the case to the grand jury.
When asked if the system in place inherently privileges law enforcement and their account of these types of episodes, Ago said, "Yes, and the tragedy is that has always been the case in the United States. Notwithstanding the history of the problems of law enforcement from its inception, from the beginnings of the United States back before independence, the problems with law enforcement have persisted."
But Mary Graw Leary, a former federal prosecutor who teaches law at Catholic University of America, believes it made sense for Cameron to engage a grand jury as a first step in the process.
"It is appropriate to go in front of a grand jury with felony charges if you are seeking possible felony charges. In many jurisdictions, that's in fact what is required. Federally that is what is required. The use of the grand jury is actually designed not to protect the prosecutor but to protect the public," said Leary.
Both Leary and Ago agree it is essential for the public to know what charges were asked of the grand jury to determine.
It's unclear when or if Cameron will release the transcripts.
"The criminal justice system writ large has a lot of flaws to it and we are trying to address this in our national dialogue and that, of course, is an important step forward but I would say as well something like the grand jury process is not something people should want to quickly get rid of because that process can assist potential victims to help find the truth," said Leary.