Ferguson no-indictment call: Travesty of justice or fair shake?

Justice for Michael Brown never really had a chance.

As a rule, police don’t get charged with a crime when they shoot and kill someone. In one sense, that’s fair, since they’re putting their own lives on the line trying to serve and protect, and they do have a right to defend themselves. But when a case is handled as poorly and in such an obviously biased way as the Michael Brown case was handled, it’s clear that there was only one outcome the prosecutor wanted — no indictment for the officer who shot and killed Brown. And St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch got what he wanted.

The variance in stories from the police side since August is stunning. Within a few days, Ferguson police played up the story of Michael Brown stealing cigars. They admitted that Officer Darren Wilson didn’t know that Brown was a suspect in that theft until after he had killed him. By the time of the 20-minute McCulloch press conference, all of a sudden the story was that Wilson stopped Brown precisely because he matched the description of the cigar-stealer.

Numerous eyewitnesses came forward to give accounts. As many lawyers on cable news shows said, eyewitness accounts don’t always agree. Yet McCulloch and his assistants played up the accounts that fit into the scenario of Michael Brown “charging” at Darren Wilson — a scenario that he no doubt settled on after he heard some of these eyewitness accounts — and discounted the ones that didn’t meet their test. Never mind that multiple witnesses said Brown was shot over 100 feet away, with his hands up.

In his bizarre press conference performance, McCulloch actually attacked the eyewitnesses who told a story that didn’t fit his prearranged scenario. He claimed those witnesses had “changed their story” and that their testimony “didn’t match the autopsy evidence.” This, despite the fact that he admitted some of the autopsy evidence was inconclusive. He claimed that some witnesses said Brown was standing still with his hands up, some said his hands were down, and some said he was running toward Wilson.

Late in the press conference, before McCulloch actually announced the non-indictment, the ONLY story he was repeating was that Brown was “charging” at Wilson. Why, exactly, should we believe that to be the case? Yet, since there was no police report about this incident, Wilson was able to pick and choose his details and tell a story that would exonerate him.

The photos released of Wilson’s supposed injuries from Brown don’t show much in the way of injuries. There is some slight redness in his cheeks, but no evidence that the “demon,” as Wilson described Brown, did much damage. Why should we believe Wilson?

There were a series of leaks throughout the “secret” grand jury proceedings. (Gee, wonder where those came from, Prosecutor McCulloch?) And all of those carefully leaked details served to bolster the outcome McCulloch wanted. And although McCulloch’s office was willing to leak those details throughout the proceedings, he refused to say if the decision not to indict was unanimous — claimed he couldn’t do it. How is it that so many of these details, including Wilson’s tailored testimony, are fair game, yet how the jurors voted isn’t?

According to reports from those who have started looking into the thousands of pages of documents from the grand jury, including the testimony from Wilson himself, McCulloch’s assistants bullied the eyewitnesses and treated Darren Wilson with kid gloves.

The oddest and most disturbing thing about the press conference was the timing. The grand jury issued its non-indictment and was dismissed. First the decision was to be revealed at 4 p.m. Central time. Then, inexplicably, that was postponed until 8 p.m. And then McCulloch started 20 minutes late anyway. Why?

Certainly it gave McCulloch prime time TV exposure. But it had the worse effect of announcing the decision late at night — a time when protestors who had been stewing all day waited in the dark. Is it any surprise that there was a violent reaction? A diary on Daily Kos suggested that the evening release of the non-indictment was done on purpose, to ensure a violent reaction from protestors. The prosecutor’s office wanted riots, so they would look good and the heavily African-American crowd would look bad.

“Crowd control is always more difficult in the dark,” said CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin in an online opinion piece. McCulloch’s “tone was icy and divisive. His sympathy for the Brown family was perfunctory. He seemed more angry at the news media than about the death of a young man.” That anger also seemed directed at social media and eyewitnesses who didn’t fit his preordained outcome. What kind of prosecutor treats eyewitnesses that way? Not one I want in my county.

So Darren Wilson walks free. No doubt someone will give him a lucrative ghost-written book deal, and he’ll be the darling of conservative media.

Some of the leaks about this case suggested that Wilson will resign from the Ferguson Police Department. For the sake of the town, I certainly hope he does. He’d probably be much happier living in an all-white community anyway.

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