Prosecutor: Wilkerson case may miss next grand jury

Published 3:00 am Friday, February 9, 2018

An investigation into the Troy Police Department’s use of force in the arrest of a juvenile last year may not be complete in time to be presented to a February Grand Jury, according to a prosecutor appointed to handle the case.

“Most of the investigation will need to be complete and it is still ongoing,” said Michael W. Jackson, district attorney for the 4th Judicial District of Alabama. “It’s hard to say whether it is going to make it on the February grand jury.”

The State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) launched their investigation into the incident on Dec. 24, 2017, the day after Troy police officers say they chased a juvenile and used physical force to arrest him.

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Soon after, the teen was revealed to be 17-year-old Ulysses Wilkerson when members of the family circulated photos of his bloody and swollen face to social media.

SBI officer Heath Carpenter said the investigation is expected to take 60 days to complete, which would be Feb. 22.

Multiple officials in the circuit clerk’s office and the district attorney’s office said they were not at liberty to divulge the date of the grand jury. Grand juries are not open to the public and it is at the discretion of the district attorney whether to release information about a grand jury presentation if no indictment is made.

Jamie Scarbrough, circuit clerk, said there are typically three to four grand juries per year and typically fall in February, June and October.

District Attorney Tom Anderson recused himself from any involvement in the investigation and grand jury proceedings on January 19.

“Just as the City of Troy Police Department requested a neutral and detached agency, the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI), to conduct an independent investigation, I have concluded it is in the best interest of public confidence that my office recuse itself from any involvement in the investigation of the incident and the matter be assigned to an independent prosecutor,” Anderson said in a statement. “We take this action to avoid any possible appearance of bias or political influence, and after researching national standards and recommendations related to potential conflicts or the appearance of conflicts. This action is also taken in deference to the wishes of the juvenile’s family for an outside investigation and examination of the facts.”

The state then appointed Jackson and Tommy Smith, a supernumerary district attorney out of Tuscaloosa, to handle the proceedings.

“We were glad to be able to help a fellow district attorney out and to help resolve those matters down there,” Jackson said. “We plan to work hard on it like we would on our circuit and bring it to a just resolution … We are getting up to speed on what is going on and talking to different entities about what happened.”

Jackson said that evidence including body camera footage would be made public in trial if the grand jury indicts the officer involved in the incident. But the evidence presented to the grand jury will remain private.

“The grand jury is not open to the public,” Jackson said. “If there were an indictment, then that would be public.”

Some members from both within the community and around the region have called on city officials and officers to release the body cam footage, which Anderson has confirmed to exist.

Carpenter said SBI does not release evidence in an investigation before it is complete.

“SBI’s standard practice is to meet with at least one member of the immediate family in all its ‘use of force’ type investigations, if at all possible,” Carpenter said. “These meetings are to: introduce the family to the SBI representative thereby providing the family with an SBI point-of-contact, explain the investigative process to the family, and address questions and/or concerns of the family. In this case, an attorney representing the juvenile required, in writing, that all communication from SBI to the family be made through the attorney’s office. SBI complied with this request and awaited a date and time that agreed with the family and their attorneys.

“It is understandable for members of the family and other concerned citizens to have questions. It is SBI’s responsibility to collect, report and communicate all related facts in a properly legal manner so that the criminal justice system is best equipped to render a finding. SBI does not condone any premature releases of information that could jeopardize the rights of all involved parties and/or undermine the course of justice.”

Carpenter has said the investigation is progressing as expected.