By Robert Weiner, Hannah Coombs and Daniel Wallace
Originally Published in St. Louis Post Dispatch
February 4, 2015
the Post-Dispatch and a few other papers last month covered a Ferguson
grand juror's initiating a lawsuit against the prosecutor, all media
have been stone silent since then on the suit. On January 25, the National Press
Club held a forum, "Coverage of Race in America," regarding media, race and
justice, from Ferguson to Staten Island. Post-Dispatch Editor Gilbert Bailon
was a key panelist and took justifiable pride in the paper's coverage of
Ferguson and the new lawsuit. There would be enormous gaps in information without
the Post-Dispatch's leadership.
This lawsuit, Grand Juror Doe vs. Robert McCulloch in his official capacity as a
Prosecuting Attorney, deserves updates and editorial endorsements. It is a
unique way to punish prosecutors for potential fraud against the court through
misinformation, confusion and lack of timeliness as the grand juror points out
in the complaint, which is supported and litigated by the ACLU. Specifically,
Doe filed that "the presentation was made in a muddled and untimely manner."
Fraud against the court is a prosecutable offense.
This is the charge that McCulloch
and his team, including assistant prosecutor Kathy Alizadeh, could face.
Alizadeh handed the grand jury a 1979 Missouri law that claimed it is legal to
shoot a fleeing suspect -- and did not tell them that the Supreme Court
overturned the law 30 years ago, in 1985. Two weeks later, she gave the grand
jury a document that reflected the current state of the law. But she told the
jurors to fold in half the first document in order to remind themselves not to
"necessarily rely on that because there is a portion of that that doesn't
comply with the law." Confused, a juror asked if U.S. Supreme Court rulings
overturn Missouri law. Instead of answering a simple "Yes," another assistant
district attorney spoke up and responded, "We don't want to get into a law
As a result, the grand jury operated
on an unclear understanding of the relevant law for whether Darren Wilson was
legally justified to shoot Michael Brown as he ran away (regardless of the
confusion of whether he was surrendering or not).
In addition, McCulloch and his team
never confronted Officer Wilson sufficiently about why and how Michael Brown
was shot the second time from 35 feet away. Since the officer claimed he was
aware that Brown was unarmed, why didn't the policeman shoot the final shots at
the legs to disable rather than the head to kill?
The ACLU, representing juror Doe in
the case, asks that the judge lift restrictions on Doe's First-Amendment right
to discuss the prosecution's actions. The juror further argues that prosecutor
McCulloch discussed the nonindictment in a way that falsely made the grand
jury's findings appear unanimous. However, only four of the 12 were sufficient
to block the indictment and as many as eight, a majority, may have voted to
Prosecutors could also be held accountable
in Staten Island, where the videographer who shot the footage of the illegal
death-inducing choke hold and the "I can't breathe" statements was dismissed
after just 10 minutes of testimony, with no penetrating questions regarding
what he saw, the angles, the time duration, the results, and the like.
There are a lot of proposals to
improve future prosecutions' objectivity, including police body cameras,
training and community policing. These are all excellent and necessary, but
prosecutors are the final bulwark when injustice is actually committed. The
knowledge that they, too, are subject to prosecution and criminal cases will go
a long way toward equalizing race and justice in America.
The Doe case is an excellent first
step, but is not as far as the jurors could and should go, not only for the
right to speak but to hold the prosecution accountable. Tony Rothert, legal
director of the Missouri ACLU, said his group is also supporting suits that
would directly confront McCulloch and his team for fraud and removing McCulloch
from office. Rothert says he "wants to get the conversation going." These suits
are also underreported in the media.
The grand juror's courage in
initiating the Doe v. McCulloch case could be a national model, and it deserves
public support as well as ongoing media coverage. Prosecutor McCulloch's
response to the case was due Monday. He asked for two more weeks. The court is
mandating that he respond. The train of justice may be coming.
Weiner is a former spokesman in the Clinton White House and was spokesman for
Congressional Black Caucus senior members John Conyers and Charles Rangel.
Hannah Coombs and Daniel Wallace are policy analysts at Robert Weiner
Associates and Solutions for Change.
NATIONAL PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND ISSUES STRATEGIST
Bob Weiner, a national issues and public affairs strategist, has been spokesman for and directed the public affairs offices of White House Drug Czar and Four Star General Barry (more...)