The St. Louis County prosecutor who oversaw the investigation of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri lost his bid for reelection Tuesday night.
In his first contested primary since the 2014 shooting that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch became another incumbent prosecutor to be ousted by a progressive candidate. Wesley Bell, a Ferguson City Council member with experience as a municipal judge, unseated McCulloch in the Democratic primary for the position.
The Appeal reported earlier this week:
Bell rose to prominence in a wave of Black leaders who were elected after the Ferguson protests highlighted a glaring lack of diversity in local government. He has since helped establish new police accountability and court reforms in Ferguson, efforts he now hopes to replicate through countywide office.
"People realize the need for change, they realize the need for criminal justice reform," Bell, 43, said. "When we talk about reforming the cash bail system or ending mass incarceration, I wouldn't call those radical. I would call those policies that work and help people."
Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU's Campaign for Smart Justice, hailed Bell's victory as "a milestone for the movement to hold prosecutors accountable for fueling mass incarceration."
"It is yet another example that the politics of mass incarceration are changing," he continued. "Voters are hungry for candidates who support criminal justice reform. They are rejecting tough-on-crime politics, and embracing policies such as bail reform and ending mandatory minimums. Smart justice is winning. And the elections in November will further prove this point."
Media investigations in the wake of Michael Brown's shooting revealed that St. Louis County and towns like Ferguson used petty fines to squeeze revenue from poor and minority residents, and jailed them when they couldn't afford it. In fact, Bell was a municipal judge in a small town that was one of several in St. Louis County sued for its predatory bail practices.
In the years since Ferguson, reform-minded district attorney candidates, funded by deep-pocketed donors and riding a wave of increased public attention, have beat incumbents in places like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston.
McCulloch, though, didn't appear to be going anywhere. He ran unopposed in 2014, and Bell was a heavy underdog going into tonight's election. As The Appeal noted, McCulloch outraised Bell 6-1.
But the fallout from his numerous controversial decisions during the investigation of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, finally caught up with him.
McCulloch had deep family ties to law enforcement, leading to calls for him to appoint a special prosecutor, which he refused to do.
When a grand jury did not return an indictment against Darren Wilson, the Ferguson officer who shot Brown, McCulloch announced the news in, as Reason's Anthony Fischer described it, "a bizarre, rambling, at times overtly hostile press conference."
During the unrest that followed the grand jury's decision, McCulloch lambasted Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D-Mo.) for relieving the Ferguson Police Department of duty.
His long tenure was marked by similar previous episodes. At one point, McCulloch wanted to prosecute Axl Rose for a riot at a Guns'n'Roses show in Riverport.
McCulloch inadvertently helped spark a national movement. On Tuesday night his political career came to an end because of it.