firearms training simulator as part of orientation that new grand jurors receive from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Grand jurors, whose duties include reviewing police shootings, play the role of police officer in the simulations by using a modified gun to shoot a beam at the screen.
The use of the shooting simulator, which was not widely known until a Houston Chronicle investigation, has prompted questions among defense attorneys and civil rights activists about whether it could prejudice grand juries. Harris County grand juries have cleared HPD officers in shootings 288 consecutive times. ...
The DA’s office, which began using the simulator in 2003, contends it helps grand jurors understand pressures of police work and the split-second decisions officers must make.Only one other large Texas county - Bexar - shows grand jurors a similar presentation, according to the article. The use of the simulator to educate (indoctrinate?) grand jurors wasn't something even insiders in Harris County's criminal justice system were aware of, the paper reported:
Grand jurors empathizing with police officers is at the heart of questions raised about the shooting simulator.Though "Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said the simulations educate jurors about situations when self-defense claims are legitimate — not just for police officers but for all residents," it sounds like the only justified shootings shown in the simulations involve someone with a badge pulling the trigger.
Julian Ramirez, who is head of the DA’s civil rights unit, said the training simulator uses scenarios including school shootings, a domestic violence call, the scene of a sexual assault and traffic stops. Ramirez said the simulator gives grand jurors a better understanding of the “police officer’s experience when he goes on some of these calls.”
The DA’s office began inviting the news media and defense attorneys to use the simulator after the Chronicle began asking about the practice. The device’s use was not previously known by some local defense attorneys.
“Damn, I’ve never heard of that,” said Danny Easterling, who has spent 32 years as a defense attorney and is a past president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. “That does raise concerns … the neutrality of it could be questioned. It seems to be a bias towards the police.”
Harris County criminal district judges David Mendoza, Jan Krocker and Katherine Cabaniss said they also were not aware of the simulator’s use.
“I’m surprised. I’ve never heard of that occurring or that procedure,” said Mendoza, judge for the 178th court.
Certainly the use of the simulator isn't the only reason Houston cops are unlikely to be indicted by grand juries. "University of Houston assistant professor of criminal justice Larry Karson conducted a 2004 study that found more than half of the 129 grand jury commissioners selected in Harris County in a two-year span had close ties to the legal system. They included judges, attorneys, court employees, bail bond agents, probation officers and law enforcement officers." So many grand jurors are people predisposed toward siding with police officers, anyway.
And, of course, grand juries can only base their decisions on the information given to them by the same District Attorney's Office that's showing them the simulator video. There's no one else representing the victim's interests in the room and because transcripts are secret, no one can ever know what the ADA said to them or what information may have been omitted in the presentation.
No doubt, in many cases a no-bill was justified. But even a conservative Republican judge questioned Harris County grand juries' lack of action on questionable Houston PD shootings. “The big void on indictments of police officers is certainly alarming, and I just hope each grand jury had decided those cases based on the facts independently of what the district attorney wants them to do,' said 209th District Judge Mike McSpadden.” Remarkably, "The newspaper’s investigation showed that more than a quarter of the 121 civilians Houston Police Department officers have shot in the last five years were unarmed."