If secret grand juries lead to Ferguson-style justice, isn’t it time to roll the cameras?

Answers may be illusive in Missouri, but new legislation in Oregon could become a model for reform: just record the proceedings … and prosecutorial playgrounds become transparent
The thing about being a felon in possession of a firearm is that sometimes you get caught. And if you’re Joe Johnson, getting caught is as easy as shooting yourself in the groin. Johnson was facing 20 years in prison in a Multnomah County, Oregon, courtroom in June. Ten were for the weapon – its discharge, as carefully explained by a forensic expert on the stand, was from inside the pants – and the other 10 were for shooting a friend turned frenemy outside a grocery store in Portland, an incident described as a botched robbery, with conflicting accounts as to who was robbing whom.

Photo: Clackamas County Records Management

Carol Hopkins, Clackamas Co. Records Management Supervisor, keeps boxes of court records organized at an off-site storage facility. Any notes taken by grand jurors as they hear testimony are stored here under tight security. We needed a judge’s order just to access the warehouse and take this photo. Read our full report on secrecy in the Oregon grand jury system.

Map: Where in the U.S. are Grand Juries Recorded?

With grand jury reform elsewhere focused on eliminating racial bias and curbing police use of force, Oregon remains an outlier. It is one of just 14 states that do not regularly record the citizen grand juries that charge people with felonies. InvestigateWest set out to understand this secretive process as a renewed push for reform has found support in the Oregon Legislature.