MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - A Minnesota attorney got to see a rare sight: transcripts of grand jury testimony. And he says the experience provides an important lesson for grand juries looking into officer-involved shootings.
Bob Bennett, a civil rights attorney, asked to see the transcripts while representing the estate of a woman shot and killed by a Chaska police officer on Highway 212 in 2014. The woman, Dawn Pfister, was shot by Sgt. Matthew Juell, but by no other officers. However, other officers did shoot and kill Matthew Serbus, the man holding Pfister hostage. Bennett argues there was no reason to shoot Pfister, while the officer’s attorneys argue she may have lunged at officers with the knife she took from Serbus.
Bennett believes, based on texts and a phone logs, that Juell and other officers coordinated their stories. And Bennett argued to a judge that he needed to see how they testified to the grand jury to look for any inconsistencies. The judge agreed. It was only the second time a judge has granted that request to Bennett, an attorney involved in some of the largest police-shooting cases in Minnesota in his three decades as a lawyer.
“It’s clear there were conversations in the midst of the grand jury testimony. From the texts and the messages that we know,” Bennett, an attorney at Gaskins Bennett Birrell Schupp, told Fox 9.
Bennett could not comment on the transcripts, due to a protective order, but told Fox 9 he believes this case provides a reason why grand juries investigating officer-involved shootings should be less secret.
“There’s plenty of good reasons to keep grand jury secrecy in most instances,” Bennett said. “I think it has to be handled on a case by case basis, but I don’t see any particular need for secrecy after a ‘no bill’ in an officer involved shooting case when the grand jury is essentially acting as a shield to officer conduct.”
Bennett pointed to figures showing 82 our of 83 recent grand juries investigating officer-involved shootings returning “no bills,” or clearing the officers.
Attorneys representing the officers opposed the release of the transcripts; the attorneys were successful in keeping another set of transcripts secret after Bennett filed another request.