Mimi Schwartz sat on a Harris County grand jury and lived to tell about it.
Last year, Harris County led the state in the number of police shootings of civilians. Of the more than 200 officer-involved shootings brought before grand juries here between 2012 and 2016, only one was indicted — and that was just for official oppression. No case involving a possible indictment of an officer came before us.
Instead, we were treated to some cool field trips: a demonstration of a canine unit, a simulated shoot/don’t shoot course to test our reflexes, and a tour of the county jail. I was so fascinated that I didn’t at first think of it as an exercise in indoctrination.
Grand jurors don’t decide guilt, but merely cause. These are shortcuts to better understand the 99% of witnesses who will come before them. If you ask a cop, he may well be offended by calling it indoctrination. One person’s indoctrination is another’s foundation. How was she to understand what they were talking about when she never experienced it?
We duly became rubber-stamp artists. And I might have continued to indict away on autopilot if it hadn’t been for two fellow jurors: a young black lawyer and a white former judge. As cases came and went, I couldn’t help noticing that their questions seemed to annoy the prosecutors: They were gumming up the works.
Lawyers. Well, one lawyer and a recovering lawyer, anyway. No doubt Mimi was well-intended and woke, yet somehow she had no grasp of her job as a grand juror, a bulwark against abuse. There she was, a rubber-stamp artist.
When we asked to interview additional witnesses in a complicated child sexual abuse case, we met resistance. At one point, a young prosecutor accused by the former judge of withholding evidence burst into tears.
After this, the grand jury starting getting shoplifting at WalMart cases rather than the good, sexy stuff that everybody wants to hear about, because no prosecutor wants a rogue grand jury to gum up the works.
This was all before Kim Ogg won election as Harris County District Attorney, and perhaps her reforms will turn around a history of backing law enforcement no matter how hard they beat the perp.
But Mimi Schwartz wasn’t a badge-licking kind of person, inclined to back cops no matter what. Yet, she morphed into a rubber-stamp artist as grand juror, until a lawyer and an ex-judge showed her the light. Had there been no lawyer, no ex-judge, on her grand jury, she would never have known that she was just a rubber stamp. She would have thought she was a great grand juror and did her civic duty with pride. Plus, she got to see some cute doggies.