NY Attorney General James reveals grand jury information to preachers behind closed doors

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — New York Attorney General Letitia James met with about 25 Black leaders in the faith community to talk about the grand jury’s decision in the Daniel Prude case. And the meeting was lengthy — more than an hour and a half.

News10NBC wanted to hear directly from her, but she dodged the press by leaving through another door. Her parting words to the lone journalist who happened to be standing there were, "I love Rochester." But she said far more than that to the ministers inside. I sat down with three of them Wednesday.

The quiet of Aenon Missionary Baptist Church belies the passion of the discussion happening inside. In the meeting with Black faith leaders, Attorney General James revealed details about the grand jury proceeding that she refused to tell the public, like the racial composition of the jury pool.

"It was 16 white people on the jury, three blacks and one Hispanic,” Rev. Lewis Stewart, President of the United Christian Leadership Ministry of Western New York, said. “And that made about 20 altogether. So I would dare say, in a sense, that we need a diverse configuration on that jury pool.”

It’s an opinion he says was echoed by Attorney General James. Rev. Stewart was one of about 25 faith leaders invited to the discussion.

“The fact that she [Attorney General James] was willing to sit down and talk with us, and sit down and talk with some of the community members on last night says a lot,” Stewart said.

While Rev. Myra Brown appreciates the meeting, she questioned James intensely about her choice to charge the officers with but one crime, criminally negligent homicide.

"And I asked the question ‘If we’re really trying to get an indictment, why didn’t you offer several charges?’” Rev. Brown recalled.

She pointed out that it’s not unusual for suspects to be charged with several crimes that apply — crimes that can be proven more easily than homicide, but James argued it was a matter of ethics.

"There’s nothing unethical about naming a list of charges that those officers violated so that we can get an indictment and give some justice to the Prude family,” Brown argued.

Rev. Ricky Harvey, pastor of Mount Olivet Baptist Church agreed.

"I’m not sure that I really appreciated the answer of Letitia James," Rev. Harvey said.

But Harvey does believe James is trying to be an agent of positive change. When asked about his impression of the meeting, Harvey was retrospective.

"I left with the impression that in her heart and in her mind she did the best that she could do," Harvey said.

But all the pastors agreed on one thing. They all believe the problems that led to the death of Daniel Prude are systemic, and it will take the work of far more than one attorney general to affect change.