Issues

Ferguson In Flames After St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch Lights The Match

As of early Tuesday morning, details were still emerging regarding the damage caused in Ferguson by unrest and violence in the aftermath of the announcement that the St. Louis County grand jury had decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on any charges. Wilson shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9th. Shortly after St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch made the public announcement at 9:30 PM ET, protests in Ferguson turned violent, as numerous businesses were ransacked and burned. At least two police cars were torched.

It needs to be said — McCulloch is largely responsible for the current situation in Ferguson. Sure. He isn’t out there throwing Molotov cocktails or chucking rocks at police or busting into stores. However, the way the man has handled this whole situation, all the way down to the way he announced the ‘no true bill’ from the grand jury, is most likely the leading cause of the tense state of affairs in the St. Louis area. The feeling all along was that McCulloch’s complete lack of objectivity  would prevent him from bringing up charges against a police officer. McCulloch’s father was a police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 1964. Most of McCulloch’s immediate family have served as police officers.

In the past, McCulloch has declined to bring up charges in other police involved shootings that seemed on the outside to show excessive or unlawful use of force. One prime example occurred in 2000, when McCulloch presented a case to the grand jury, much like he did with the Brown killing. Based on the evidence he presented, the grand jury declined to charge police officers in the shooting deaths of two unarmed black men. The shooting happened during an undercover drug purchase at a local Jack in the Box. The way McCulloch presented that evidence made it appear that the officers were completely justified in their actions. After that grand jury decided not to indict, McCulloch stated that he agreed with the decision.

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In the Brown case, people who remembered the Jack in the Box situation, and other instances of McCulloch’s chumminess with local law enforcement, called on McCulloch to recuse himself. However, he refused to do so, and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon also decided against removing him from investigating the case. Therefore, we ended up with what we saw Monday night, which was a man defiantly telling an entire community that Darren Wilson was justified in killing an unarmed black man. McCulloch, who delayed the plannned announcement by more than three hours, gave a long, rambling speech where he sounded more like Wilson’s defense attorney than a prosecutor who was trying to bring charges against him.

Below is video of McCulloch’s speech, courtesy of C-SPAN:

 

 

 

The very tone of McCulloch’s announcement basically came across as a big “Screw you!” to the local black community. After announcing the decision, he took questions from handpicked reporters that were allowed in the room with him. Throughout, he remained defiant and seemed generally unconcerned how this decision will impact the area. He claimed that he had presented the evidence as needed to the grand jury and was being transparent as possible. To prove his point, he provided a huge information dump to media, providing all of the evidence to papers and news stations.

Of course, what should be pointed out is just how rare it is for a prosecutor not to have a grand jury return at least some recommendation of charges when a case is presented. The cliche goes that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” Ben Casselman at FiveThirtyEight provided some valuable insight into this Monday night. In his article, Casselman showed that out of 162,000 federal cases that were brought before a grand jury in 2010 (last year of full data), only 11 did not return with an indictment. Numerous legal analysts also stated that it was highly unusual for McCulloch to present evidence to the grand jury without providing a recommendation for specific charges.

It seems obvious to many that McCulloch had no intention of ever bringing charges against Wilson. Being that Missouri law gives police quite a bit of leeway in the use of deadly force, McCullouch was always going to be able to point to the law and say nothing could really be done. As a prosecutor, he makes for a very good defense attorney. Especially when it comes to protecting the shield.

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