By Ryan Noonan and Devon Sanders, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — A bill to require criminal grand juries to review all shootings by police officers that kill or injure someone was proposed Tuesday by Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge.
Her proposal was made in the wake of Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s decision to decline criminal charges against the two Baton Rouge officers involved in the Alton Sterling shooting in July 2016.
“Many of the people in this city and around the world felt that he should have convened a grand jury,” Marcelle said about Landry’s decision. “In an effort that this would not happen again, I am proposing a piece of legislation that provides that it shall go to the grand jury.”
Landry said in a statement that “creating a uniform method for the handling of officer-involved shootings seems to be an issue worthy of the Legislature’s consideration.” But he had not read or seen Rep. Marcelle’s proposed legislation and could not comment on it more specifically.
Marcelle was joined at the press conference by Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, who will co-author the bill. Both Marcelle and Hunter are members of the Louisiana Black Caucus.
“We’re not looking for a pushback, we’re not looking to have a fight,” Marcelle added. “We are looking to do what’s best for the citizens of this state.”
Marcelle discussed her bill at a news conference shortly after a Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 for a bill that would prevent individuals under 21 from buying assault weapons. The minimum age now is 18.
That bill was proposed by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, and it was supported by one Republican, Sen. Fred Mills of Breaux Bridge. The New Orleans police chief and a representative of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke in favor of the bill. The National Rifle Association opposed the bill, which could face tougher hurdles in the House and the full Senate.
Hunter said that Marcelle’s bill was narrowly tailored to deal specifically with officer-involved shootings resulting in injury or death. He also explained that he, along with other supporters of the legislation, met with Landry to discuss the proposal on Monday.
Hunter added that while he disagreed with Landry’s decision in the Sterling case, they did manage to find some common ground pertaining to Marcelle’s bill.
“The goal was to try to get some type of resolution moving forward about how each community, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, could get a piece of legislation that we could back,” Hunter said about the meeting. “Let’s be very clear; in those situations, he is supportive of taking out the discretion of the attorney general or the district attorney’s office solely for the purpose of having it go to a grand jury.”
Landry did not go quite that far, however, in the statement he issued after Marcelle’s news conference.
“It is the prerogative of any legislator to introduce legislation to address perceived deficiencies in the law,” Landry said. “All stakeholders should certainly have a hand in any final legislation, including; prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and the members of the law enforcement community.”
“Creating greater confidence in the criminal justice system is always worth consideration,” Landry added.
Hunter said that while the bill might not change what happened in the Sterling case, it was still possible for Landry to reconsider his decision.
“Let’s not say that that ship has sailed.” Hunter said. “Anybody who tells you that that’s a final decision that’s unappealable is not giving you a true depiction of how the law works.”
Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, the new chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, was also at the press conference. He expressed enthusiasm for the bill, but similarly acknowledged that he could not comment on it without seeing a draft first.
“I haven’t read this new legislation to be honest with you, but we certainly look forward to hearing it and seeing what’s involved in it,” Johnson said. “We support anything that obviously would give people more access to justice.”
Also present at the press conference were Baton Rouge NAACP president Byron Sharper; Louisiana NAACP president Michael McClanahan; Vera Sterling, an aunt of Alton Sterling; and Wave Youth Organization.
Overall, Marcelle said the legislation would lead to more transparency throughout communities.
“We have to remove any political stigma that may cause people to believe—even if that’s not our intent— that we are not doing things fairly and decently,” Marcelle said.