Recently a judge released about 15 hours of recordings of grand jury testimony into the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by Louisville, Ky, police.
According to news reports, officers were trying to serve a warrant after midnight, March 13, to search Taylor’s home because police believed the residence had been used to receive packages of illegal drugs.
When occupants didn’t respond to officers’ announced presence, they broke down the door. Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were in bed.
The couple rushed down the hallway toward the door.
Walker, who was armed with a licensed gun, told investigators he didn’t know the home invaders were police. Fearing for his life, he shot, wounding one policeman in the thigh.
Fired upon, police sent a salvo of bullets into the house, killing Taylor.
The incident triggered anti-police demonstrations around the nation. Taylor’s family and thousands of others demanded police be charged with murder.
I write not to express an opinion about the incident itself, for I have none. A lot of “he said, she said,” is abundant. Let’s let the legal system work that out.
What I rise to opine about is the judge’s releasing 15 hours of grand jury video testimony.
Grand jury testimony is supposed to be secret, and for very important reasons.
As a farm reporter for the Tri-City Herald half a century ago, I covered a series of arson-set hay fires in Franklin County.
I wrote about a farmer who, you might say, came to me for protection.
Arsonists had used his farm to give instructions on how to light haystacks afire. He was upset about it and having been warned that if he testified before a grand jury his wife and two daughters would be raped.
He was summoned to testify before the grand jury.
The farmer believed his only protection would be to expose the threat and thus called me. Believe me, I was almost as concerned as the farmer. Innocent people can be harmed by release of grand jury testimony, and what if the brave farmer was mistaken in his belief that a prominent news story would shield his family?
Our long interview began late in the evening. His wife and teenage daughters were crying and I broke an important journalism ethic by agreeing to let him see the story before it ran. I can reveal that now because editors can’t fire me after all these years.
I drove some 30 miles from the farm back to my office at the Tri-City Herald and banged out the story on a standard typewriter, then drove back and let the farmer approve the story.
It was after midnight when I left him, not with permission, but with his request that my story be published.
The story, of course, was explosive. One of the best of my 11-year career in daily newspaper journalism.
To the farmer’s great relief and mine, there were no rapes.
I cite this story as an example of why grand jury testimony needs to be kept secret.
With sincere compassion for families and friends of victims, we need to tamp down demands for immediate information and action in response to the awful crimes.
Here, the news media deserved significant blame. Especially television.
Instead of hyping irrational demands for instant justice, the media should be helping educate the public about the need to proceed with patience–as difficult as that is.
Terence L. Day is a retired Washington State facultymember and a Pullman resident since 1972. He encourages email — pro and con — to email@example.com.