First, Chief Thomas Jackson placed tooting his own horn and the restoration of the damaged reputation of his Ferguson Police Department due to all the negative feedback regarding the over militarization of his police force , and the 8/15/14 early release of the Michael Brown’s convenient store theft video, before the well being of the community he serviced. Then the Prosecutor Robert McCulloch whose Father, a policeman who had been killed by an African American man, followed suit by refusing to recuse himself from this case despite numerous pleadings for him to do so. Within the community, the ST. Louis County Prosecutors office had a well deserved reputation for being pro-police. The Missouri Governor Jay Nixon gave into political expediency by not having the courage to assign this case to a special prosecutor. Thus, the system failed the community of Ferguson.
Its residents were not duped by their self serving public officials for a second and they were not shocked to learn that the Ferguson Public Relations Officer referred to Michael Brown’s memorial as a pile of thrash to a Washington Post reporter. So now, there will be continuing protests in Ferguson and all around the country with no end in sight. In this instance of the Michael Brown shooting case, the system was the gun and Officer Wilson was the bullet.
While the media has closely covered the Ferguson events, most have not done the in-depth investigative reporting that this case required. Too much important information has been missed and glossed over to where the general public repeats the frequent misconception that the facts of this case are murky. Overall the media coverage has also let the community of Ferguson down.
The coup d’état was when Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced in a press conference, the grand jury’s decision not to charge Police Officer Darren Wilson around 9:00 p.m. on 11/24/14, the eve before Thanksgiving. He did this without relaying to the Missouri Governor Jay Nixon any prior warning, so that the Governor could have deployed the national guard as he had preplanned, to protect the Ferguson protestors and the local businesses and property from being destroyed from the foreseeable and inevitable protests. The world watched their TV’s in horror as they saw Ferguson in turmoil without any National Guard presence. Now, there are Missouri legislative hearings being conducted on this very issue and Governor Nixon has promised funds to help rebuild the city of Ferguson. Again, Prosecutor McCulloch placed his disdain for the protestors and the media before his fiduciary duty to protect those who are paying his salary, the tax payers of Ferguson. This announcement was his version of Queen Marie Antoinette’s phrase frequently attributed to her , “Let them eat cake.”
The world now knows that the grand jury hearing was calculatingly orchestrated by Prosecutor McCulloch to deliver his desired outcome of not indicting Police Officer Darren Wilson for any crime.
He did not did not vet to bar any of the eye witnesses from testifying at the grand jury hearing whose credibility were very questionable, including two who were not even present at the crime scene. Those eye witnesses who supported Officer Darren Wilson’s version of events were not seriously cross examined as to any possible bias, inconsistencies and discrepancies with their various testimonies; whereas, those who had accounts which differed from Officer Wilson were subject to rigorous cross examination. The expert witnesses as well as the physical and forensic evidence were never challenged as to accuracy, and/ or possible, reasonable different interpretations. To bolster his image of being impartial, he assigned two assistant prosecutors to present the evidence to the jurors. Then he released to the public, the transcripts of what was said in the hearing as well as all the evidence they reviewed. He only needed to plan for four jurors to not indict Police Officer Darren Wilson to prevail, because the system is designed, so that 9 jurors out of 12 must agree to indict before proceeding to trial. So, even though as few as 4 jurors may have voted to not indict, he could then announce to the press without divulging the vote break down, that the jury reached a collective decision to not charge Officer Wilson with any crimes and thus, that he had been exonerated of any wrong doing by a jury of his peers. The fact that Prosecutor McCulloch has not been forthcoming with the information of the vote breakdown since the names of the jurors are still protected, is telling. I am sure if the vote breakdown was favorable to Officer Wilson, that it would have been made public before December 2014.
In general, prosecutors resist charging a police officer for multiple reasons. First it is the police officers who investigate their cases, just like in the Law & Order TV series. It wouldn’t be in their interest to not have a good relationship with the police department. Also, the prosecutors need the police officers to testify in court on the cases they’ve investigated, and the prosecutors could not put on the stand, any officer charged with using excessive force that resulted in a fatality. In addition, defense attorneys would start lining up all their old cases for review before the court, which were investigated by the indicted officer. These factors do not even take into account that because of the close working relationships between the prosecutors and police officers, that in many cases, the prosecutor could be charging a friend. The prosecutors are typically pro police as this is the nature of their job to go after the bad guys. It is for all the above reasons that a special prosecutor should be assigned to any case in which a police officer could be charged with the use of excessive force or abuse of power which resulted in the fatality or serious injury to an individual. It is only logical to also appoint a special investigative team as well to avoid even the appearance of bias.
Fortunately, as per breaking news on 1/5/14, a juror has filed suit to lift the gag order on the secrecy requirement of this particular grand jury hearing. Typically, the secrecy of the grand jury is sacrosanct but in this case, Prosecutor Robert McCulloch has already made public the evidence, the eye and expert witness testimony transcripts. The break down of how the jurors voted would not identify them by name. This could put the lie to Prosecutor McCulloch’s assertion that the grand jury’s resolve to not indict was reached collectively. For example, if the break down of the vote was 7 in agreement to indict with 5 in dissent, this would bar the prosecutor from indicting Officer Wilson but it could not be construed as a consensus. If a juror wants to go public, then it is their choice to relinquish their privacy and the prosecutor is no longer required to protect it. Since Prosecutor McCulloch has promised transparency to the public regarding the Darren Wilson grand jury proceedings, then this commitment should be honored. We will be able to figure out if the break down of the grand jury vote is a real problem for the prosecutor by how hard he fights the court about releasing this data. Frankly, I think we already know that answer or why would this Ferguson juror be filing suit to lift the secrecy gag order?
This is a case that cries out for the truth, and with the courage of this one juror to challenge the prosecutor as well as other groups stepping up to the plate, we are one step closer. The community of Ferguson deserves this. This saga continues on my next blog.
Rachel Lippman wrote a blog on 1/6/2014, titled, “Court Extends Order Requiring Better Warning Before Tear Gas,” and the following is an excerpt:
“The ruling says police can’t use tear gas, smoke, pepper gas or other chemical agents to disperse peaceful crowds unless they first:
- Issue “clear and unambiguous warnings that such chemical agents will be utilized” and without providing “sufficient opportunity to heed the warnings and exit the area.”
- Minimize impact on those “who are complying with lawful law enforcement commands.”
- Ensure “there is a means of safe egress.”
Police can’t use tear gas on protesters “for the purpose of frightening them or punishing them for exercising their constitutional rights,” the order says.”