Police Abuse

Darren Wilson's Friendly Trial

The rigged process that exonerated the cop who shot Michael Brown highlights the need for independent prosecutors.

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A Justice Department report released last week makes a strong case that Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, last August. The report suggests that Robert McCulloch, the much-maligned St. Louis County prosecutor, made the right call when he decided not to pursue criminal charges against Wilson.

McCulloch nevertheless was the wrong person to make that call. His lack of credibility, as illustrated by the upside-down grand jury process that he orchestrated to clear Wilson, highlights the need for independent prosecutors to review police shootings.

Because they work closely with local police on a daily basis, local prosecutors have strong pragmatic and emotional reasons to exonerate cops who kill people in the line of duty. In McCulloch's case, that pro-cop bias was compounded by his personal background.

McCulloch's mother, father, brother, nephew, and cousin all worked for the St. Louis Police Department. When he was 12, his father was killed while pursuing a kidnapping suspect.  

Until he lost a leg to cancer as a teenager, McCulloch planned to follow in his father's footsteps. "I couldn't become a policeman," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "so being county prosecutor is the next best thing."

It was not surprising that McCulloch, who declined to recuse himself from the Wilson case, decided not to prosecute. But he did not want to take responsibility for that decision, so he said he would leave it to a grand jury.

Since it would have been unethical for McCulloch to prosecute a man he believed was innocent, it was unclear what he would have done if the grand jurors had approved criminal charges against Wilson. McCulloch's underlings made sure that did not happen, leading the jurors by the nose to a predetermined result.

Rather than making the case for criminal charges, as prosecutors typically do, McCulloch's assistants seemed intent on discouraging an indictment. The transcripts released after the grand jury's "no bill" decision last November show that prosecutors misstated the legality of shooting at a fleeing suspect, went easy on Wilson while grilling witnesses who undermined his case, and, in an effort to explain the aggression that Wilson said had precipitated his use of deadly force, persistently and implausibly suggested that marijuana had made Brown irrationally violent.

In a lawsuit seeking permission to discuss the case publicly, one of the grand jurors says the way prosecutors presented evidence—"with the insinuation that Brown, not Wilson, was the wrongdoer"—"differed markedly and in significant ways from how evidence was presented in the hundreds of matters presented to the grand jury earlier in its term." The juror also complains that "the presentation of the law…was made in a muddled and untimely manner."

Not surprisingly, this process, conducted behind closed doors by prosecutors acting like defense attorneys, did not do much to reassure skeptics or placate McCulloch's critics. The voluminous transcripts provided fuel for both sides, and McCulloch's characterization of the evidence was easily dismissed as the self-serving rationalization of a cop-friendly prosecutor.

The DOJ report carries more weight, not just because it presents the evidence succinctly and logically but also because the FBI and federal prosecutors are less cozy with local cops. The latter factor is important both in making sure prosecutorial decisions are untainted by personal bias and in persuading the public that they are. That's why the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing recently recommended "policies that mandate the use of external and independent prosecutors" in cases involving police shootings or deaths in custody.

McCulloch's energetic efforts to avoid an indictment of Wilson reinforced the impression that the justice system is rigged in favor of cops, who tend to get a much more sympathetic hearing when they kill people than ordinary citizens do. Making independent prosecutors the standard approach in such cases would not eliminate that problem, but it would help balance sympathy with appropriate skepticism.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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55 responses to “Darren Wilson's Friendly Trial

  1. Apparently, the bullies in Reason Comments Section have caused Sullum to recant his earlier heresy:

    I would go further: Wilson’s use of deadly force probably was legally justified, and St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch was right not to give Brown’s family the trial they wanted. Although I still have strong reservations about the way McCulloch achieved that result, he made the right call, and I was wrong to suggest otherwise.

    (The DOJ) report goes beyond explaining why Wilson’s actions did not meet that test. It also makes a strong case that Wilson shot Brown based on a reasonable fear of death or serious injury, which is the standard for self-defense under Missouri law.

    One can quibble over some of the report’s characterizations of witness’s reports, but the overall impression is inescapable: The witnesses who make Wilson look the worst are the worst witnesses.

    https://reason.com/blog/2015/03…..-that-darr

    Crusading Journalism R.I.P

    1. Apparently, the bullies in Reason Comments Section have caused Sullum to recant his earlier heresy:

      Sullum still holds that opinion (and it is the correct view given the facts).

      Sullum simply points out that independent prosecutors would improve the perception of fairness and the process and that in other cases, the current process might lead to errors.

      Making such an argument using the Wilson case is confusing, since a lot of people can barely read and follow an argument; you just illustrated that again. In addition, picking independent prosecutors is probably not enough to reign in police; it’s a token gesture instead of the real reform we need.

    2. Why don’t you care about black people?

      1. Why don’t you care about black people?

        Because he’s a tool of Libertarianism 3.0. Reason is now the Ministry of Truth and Propaganda for the Cult of Ron Paul … and the Orval Faubus view of federalism.

        In 1957, Alabama Governor Orval Faubus stood with his state’s National Guard, blocking entrance to Little Rock’s Central High School. The Court had ordered the registration of nine black kids.

        President Eisenhower sent federal troops to use force, if necessary, in defense of individual and constitutional rights for only nine kids.

        In a defiant 1958 speech, Faubus defended his action as the protection of state autonomy. An intrusive federal government had enforced the will of unelected judges against the people of Alabama. Look familiar?

        Ron Paul uses the identical argument for decades, now claiming it was “rogue judges” who struck down the federal restrictions in DOMA. Paul, and now his son, has used the same argument for decades, the notion that “all powers not delegated to the federal government belong to the states.” And Reason has defended him, every step of the way for decades. “… Ron (Rand) Paul says these matters should be left to the states.” ? Bat-shit crazy.

        The Libertarian Establishment claims that state governments have powers which have never been delegated ? by anyone … in Libertarianism 3.0

        As John Galt said, “I will put a stop to this.”

  2. Sniff. Sniff.

    Something smells in here.

    1. It’s the interlopers. They never shower.

  3. Ferguson’s still a thing? WHAT DID SCOTT WALKER SAY TODAY??! ALSO – RACISM AT OKLAHOMA U! KIM KARDASHIAN IS EVEN FUGLIER AS A BLONDE!

    ZOMFG LOL WUT?

    1. Scott Walker didn’t give an answer to racism at OU because he was too dumb to go to college.

      Serious question though. Why are the Kardashians Famous.? I think the dad was one of OJ’s lawyers or something but why does anyone give a shit?

      1. I truly so not understand the Kardashian thing. Lile, LITERALLY. Never have watched that show they had, don’t watch TMZ – and still, just by existing, I’ve managed to absorb enough information to know they’re detestable beings, famous for being famous.

        How anyone can believe mankind is not doomed – I GIVE YOU THE KARDASHIANS! (and the fact that one of them is getting even RICHER off some game app about shopping or something – WTF? who buys that?)

        1. I don’t understand it either, and I know myself well enough to admit that on some level I don’t want to understand their popularity.
          It’s more than a little depressing, actually.

        2. I’ll do you one better on the “mankind is doomed” front.

          Having a wife in the house means that I’ve absorbed even more of this nonsense. So I know that despite the theme of their show basically being “Look at this family of gold diggers who’s mom is training them to be gold diggers”, a line of wealthy men continue to want to marry into that mess.

          1. That I don’t get, as none of them are that attractive. 7/10 maybe.

          2. It’s as if reality TV has re-invented/fucked up western society faster than a progs wet dream.

      2. I asked that question some time back, and the answer I got is that one of them apparently released a sex tape. Since that, they’ve been famous for being famous.

  4. OT: I went back to the Botardation at the OU article yesterday. That was some QUALITY shit right there! Wow!

    Bets on when we get the “I’M LEAVING AND NEVER COMING BACK – THIS IS MY LAST POST!!!111!” post?

    I’m betting “never”, cause the Botard runs on your hate. Yesss, young Jedi – let the hate flow – you make the Botard stronger when you engage!!

    Wonder if he’ll ever understand that “civil rights” (plural) includes more than just race?

    Naaaaaaaah….

    You jerks all have a good day!

    /Another Jerk

    1. Botard is too much of a smug mendacious egomaniac to ever run away like Joe did. I just went and read the Bodown from yesterday – holy shit! I’m sad I missed that one in real time.

      1. It was a mess. I stopped reading not only his ravings but the responses to them. Usually I’ll read some of the responses (depending on the author) in order to read coherent counterpoints but it was so off-the-rails-bad I just stopped.

        1. I’ll admit to being one of Bo’s feeders yesterday. Towards the end he stopped making coherent points at all, so I just posted a John Wayne quote that was tangentially related to what he said.I don’t think he got it.

          1. I don’t want to go through the 615 comments to find your quote, would you mind reposting it here?

            1. I’m guessing that it’s “Life is tough. It’s tougher if you’re stupid.”?

    2. I like Bo. I can usually find something good in his arguments. And he applies the NAP to foreign policy.

  5. I think you understate the “impartiality” of the Feds in this case. They did not come in with a mandate to “study the case and seek justice”. They came in with a mandate to put the racist cop behind bars.

    The fact that they declined to prosecute speaks volumes as to the case. With the level of pressure nationally to do something about the cop who shot an unarmed teen with his hands up they were definitely not going to decline to indict if they thought they had any shred of a case. Both the president and the attorney general made it clear that they were standing with the family of Michael Brown.

    1. I have known a couple of federal prosecutors over the years. Both were arrogant and statist. They were 100% go for the conviction types – definitely not the kind to go soft on anyone that came across their desk. One had lengthy discussions with a group of us about the Trayvon Martin case – he was certain that he could get a conviction – even after hearing the evidence that witnesses placed him on top of Zimmerman at the time of the shooting. He was not just a “you can indict a ham sandwich” prosecutor, he was an “I will convict that ham sandwich and put it away for 20 years” prosecutor. Also a staunch “progressive”, for what that’s worth.

      From my limited experience, federal prosecutors only look at a case if they intend to win. The fact that they took a pass on this one means the evidence was not just a little against them. They can handle a few facts that don’t fit with their case. If they took a pass, it is because they reached something closer to “innocent, beyond a reasonable doubt”.

      1. They were 100% go for the conviction types – definitely not the kind to go soft on anyone that came across their desk

        Lori Drew could attest to this.

      2. Cyto|3.11.15
        I have known a couple of federal prosecutors over the years. Both were arrogant and statist. They were 100% go for the conviction types

        It’s their job.
        Our legal system is intentionally adversarial, to best serve the often conflicting interests of all individuals in a society and those being charged in criminal matters, tracing back to English Common Law. That’s how they teach it in high school, anyhow.

        1. That’s not their job. Their job is to seek justice. It’s go-for-the-conviction only if they believe the accused us guilty.

        2. This is incorrect as it applies to prosecutors. Under every ethical system they have responsibilities above and beyond that of other attorneys.

  6. OT: Diversity means something different in NYC…

    but you knew that.

    http://manhattancontrarian.com…..a-dead-end

    1. I think they’ve been using that definition in California for some time now.

  7. As long as the independent prosecutors aren’t a bunch of ex-cops, cop union leaders, and cop family members.

    1. But they have the most experience in analyzing and adjudging cop behavior. Who else should get the job?

      1. Victims of cop misbehaviour.

  8. In law enforcement, treating people worse than I would treat animals is just daily routine. Most of the people that are in the jails have more respect for people than those that run the jails.
    Law enforcement and I have not generally gotten along, but I simply am not capable of the cruelty that I have experienced over the years from the local finest, I am actually far nicer of a person than any officer that I have had the pleasure of interacting with. Most recently, a few weeks ago, was the grand opportunity I had to sit in a courtroom and listen to one of the local most decorated officers tell outrageous, bold, extreme lies under oath in order to gain a conviction on me to put me in jail for a few months. What kind of person is capable of that? And, the public around here loves him, would choose him over me because I smoke a little weed.
    I used to actually believe that there were good cops out there. But, at 44, I have spent a lot of time dealing with them and I have not met one yet. Sure there are plenty of cops with a good public image, but I have so far found that nothing more than a charade.

    1. What is he grand crime that I will not be separated from my family for about a year for? Well, I am bi-polar and adhd and I spend my life on chemicals in order to function. I routinely take mood stabilizers and amphetamine for the adhd. Unfortunately, we are poor and getting my medication legally is, sometimes, prohibitively expensive, while amphetamine on the black market is FAR cheaper, so I am about to do time for poss. of amphetamine, which was found during one of the most clear cases of illegal search I have ever seen. I am about to spend 6-12 months in a drug rehab for something I take every day by prescription and do not function very well without. Lately, I smoke a lot of weed – it does help with the extreme bi-polar lows that are caused by the extreme stress of dealing with the VERY criminal justice system.

      1. Let me guess. Public pretender?

        1. x2. Hire a real attorney.

      2. Best wishes for you and your family.

      3. You are probably lucky you were not shot dead by the pigs. The entire government is VERY criminal, not only the injustice system.

  9. The obvious problem with this article is the author clear assumes Wilson did something wrong and therefore, the actions of the DA are suspect. If anything is to be taken with a grain of salt it should be the report from the USDOJ. From day one, Holder injected himself into the turmoil. The first day he made a public statement that he was there to ensure a “fair and through investigation” which implies without his presence there would not be one.

  10. McCulloch nevertheless was the wrong person to make that call. His lack of credibility, as illustrated by the upside-down grand jury process that he orchestrated to clear Wilson, highlights the need for independent prosecutors to review police shootings.

    It was pretty clear after a few days that Wilson had acted in self-defense and the prosecutor made the right call. Rather than beat a dead horse, why not pick a case where the facts actually justify making the claim that the prosecutor made the wrong call because of bias?

    reinforced the impression that the justice system is rigged in favor of cops, who tend to get a much more sympathetic hearing when they kill people than ordinary citizens do

    They get a “more sympathetic hearing” because legally, they are allowed to kill people under a much wider range of circumstances than ordinary citizens. If you don’t like that (I sure don’t), then complain about the laws, not the prosecutors.

    Making independent prosecutors the standard approach in such cases would not eliminate that problem, but it would help balance sympathy with appropriate skepticism.

    Dealing with police brutality and abuse of power by police should be high priority. But dealing with it requires more than “balancing sympathy” and token gestures like appointing independent prosecutors.

    1. It’s not a token gesture particularly because the current bunch of prosecutors are too close to the police in a buddy type of way. No doubt we should complain about the laws, but we need to complain about the DAs and cops who are parts of that legal system who are supposed to follow the law like anyone else. They are not above the law and it’s important to make sure they stick to the law and are not playing footsies with each other.

  11. The police are doing the will of the people. US citizens like a powerful, virtually unfettered police force. We won’t have it any other way. Both conservatives and liberals embrace the idea.
    The people who think of themselves as liberal, want the policing to go one direction, and the folks who think they’re conservative want it to go another, but almost everyone wants more power for the police agencies.(Except for criminals, queers, bums, oddly pigmented people, and libertarians.)

    :-}

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  14. Good troll article! A bit out of date now but hey if leftists can still scream Buuuuush for everything wrong with the world why not beat this to death to.

  15. Reason always seem to have a strong anti cop bias in every article. It was shown to be a justified shooting. The thug attacked him. Get over it!!!

    1. Of course there is a strong anti-cop bias.
      Clearly no one, here, has ever been on that side of the badge.
      I particularly like the belief that prosecutors and the police work together, all the time. If they could have seen some of the knock-down, drag-outs over whether an arrested suspect should be prosecuted, they would be disabused of that idea, quickly.

  16. I disagree. Independent prosecutors are a great evil, and should never be used except (possibly) in cases of extreme national importance (i.e., allegedly criminal conduct by senior officials such as the President or the Attorney General).

    IPs, by definition, are focused solely on one defendant. They are not subject to the usual factors of prosecutorial discretion routinely weighed by normal prosecutors. In contrast, an IP functions almost as a “star chamber”. There is no incentive for him to do anything but prosecute. This tendency is exacerbated by the necessarily political process by which he is appointed. The deck is always stacked against the defendant in such cases. Indictment is almost inevitable regardless of the merits of the case.

    Perhaps the Ferguson prosecutor did intentionally slant the grand jury proceeding to avoid an indictment (although, from the Justice Department’s report, it certainly appears that he reached the correct result). But if there are to be errors in our judicial system (and errors are inevitable) they should be on the side of not indicting and of acquiting, rather that the reverse. The cure for improper or malicious prosecution is dismissal by a judge and/or jury nullification (that’s another discussion). But an equally, if not more, important protection for defendants in our judicial system is prosecutorial restraint. The use of IPs removes that control and is not to be desired.

    1. But if there are to be errors in our judicial system (and errors are inevitable) they should be on the side of not indicting and of acquiting, rather that the reverse.
      On REASON, if the individual not indicted or acquitted is a police officer, you have disappointed the vast majority.

    2. No. grand juries are nothing more than kangaroo courts set up to deliver a predetermined verdict. Wilson’s case should have gone to trial where there would have been cross examination by a hostile party.

      IP’s can be even worse because they are totally unconstrained.

      None of this provides a solution to pigs continually murdering unarmed people.

  17. Horse-shit!
    We have a Grand Jury process precisely because of issues like this.

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  20. Brown attempted to take Officer Wilson’s gun when Wilson was seated in the car, that is why his blood and a bullet hole were found in the patrol car. Are there abuses by police? Yes, but this is not one of them. The garbage in this article is no better than the garbage from the left. The US has problems related to police departments such as their militarization. It is very easy to sit back as an arm chair quarterback and claim any officer should have done this or should have done that but it is very different when you are making decision, life and death decisions, in seconds. Recently, a very vocal critic of the use of deadly force by police went through the same training that officers do in the academy. When finished he said his entire view had changed because for the first time he understood the stress and quick decisions police are required to make in these situations. From day one, this entire event was misrepresented by the media. If you want to talk about problems in the judicial system fine, but find another event to use as the basis for the discussion.

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