Police Abuse

St. Paul City Attorney: Not My Job to Second Guess Cop's Decision


St. Paul city attorney
City of St. Paul

As prosecutors in St. Louis county continue to investigate the shooting of an unarmed Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, some people are concerned the elected county prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, won't pursue the case fairly. Some activists have called for his removal, citing a history that suggests a pro-cop bias; his father was a cop killed in the line of duty and one of his first cases in the early 1990s involved defending police officers  that shot and killed two unarmed men while undercover by stressing the victims were alleged drug dealers.

McCulloch's comfort with the police department is not unique; it's exactly the type of relationship many prosecutors have with their local law enforcement agencies, on which they rely for a steady stream of prosecutable cases for building their record. The same office that counts on cops to give it solid case, that works almost as a team with law enforcement, is also charged, almost everywhere in the country, with investigating allegations of police misconduct, such as shootings. Police unions, and the power of cops and prosecutors as government agents politicians don't generally want to cross (who wants to end up being prosecuted frivolously?), help perpetuate this obvious conflict of interest of a status quo.

In the case of Chris Lollie, the St. Paul resident harassed by a cop over his identification despite there being no law in Minnesota about carrying ID and despite him being in a public area, the city attorney in St. Paul, in discussing the case, inadvertently managed to distill the problem of prosecutors' relationship with police into one sentence, bolded below. Via The Pioneer Press:

Lollie was charged with misdemeanor trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process. The city attorney's office dismissed the charges July 31.

"Our job is not to second-guess the decision that officers on the streets make to maintain order and protect the public," [St. Paul city attorney Sara] Grewing said. "Our job as prosecutors is to determine whether those elements of a crime are present to prove to a jury, and we just didn't have that here."

If you're in the habit of not second guessing the people empowered to use violence against the rest of us to induce compliance, you're unlikely to be second guessing them even when you're supposed to be investigating their actions.

Lollie was harassed by a cop that was unequivocally in the wrong, threatened with the loss of his freedom over charges the prosecutor's office itself decided couldn't stick. That police face no consequences, and in fact are defended, when they make such harmful mistakes, putting a person's freedom and even life (comply or die) on the line ought to unconscionable for everyone who spent August saying they cared about what happened to Michael Brown.