Friday, December 5, 2014

Mike Brown grand jury decision was déjà vu

What's striking in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri is the role of the prosecutor, a man thousands of people believe should have recused himself from the case due to potential bias or lack of impartiality as a result of his family story and ties with the police.

Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down on August 9, 2014 by police officer Darren Wilson. After months of protests a grand jury returned a no true bill.

The circumstances of the shooting of Michael Brown sparked anti-racism protests and calls for the prosecutor responsible for pursuing prosecution of the police officer involved to recuse himself. Some residents of Ferguson, according to CNN, contended from the onset that prosecutor Robert McCulloch has deep ties with the Ferguson police department and has favored law enforcement in previous criminal cases.

A petition was launched to remove the prosecutor from the case and replace him with a special prosecutor was launched by a Missouri State Senator. According to the petition, prosecutor McCulloch's decision not to charge officers who lied about their actions after killing two unarmed African-Americans in 2000 gives no confidence that the prosecutor's office can be fair and impartial in the Michael Brown killing.

It's worthy to mention that as of the time of this writing the petition has garnered 117,568 signatures.

In my view, concerns about the background of Robert McCulloch are sensible, and he should have recused himself. The fact that he bought the story of officers who killed two African Americans, and a subsequent federal investigation found that the officers lied cannot be overlooked. Besides, I believe it's reasonable to expect the prosecutor to remove himself from a case involving an African-American and a police officer given that, according to news reports which McCulloch's spokeman confirmed to CNN, the prosecutor's father was a police officer and was killed on the job in 1964 by an African-American man. His tragic family story is enough to raise concerns of potential partiality in a case involving a police officer and an African-American.

I'm of the view that Robert McCulloch's decision to stay on the Micheal Brown case jeopardized trust in the investigation and the decision of the grand jury. Assertions that he handled the case with kid gloves are plausible. I share the view expressed by Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Michael Brown family, that a first year law student would have done a better job cross-examining the killer of an unarmed teenager.

Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri said in a statement: "There's a well-established process by which a prosecutor can recuse themselves from a pending investigation, and a special prosecutor be appointed. Departing from this established process could unnecessarily inject legal uncertainty into this matter and potentially jeopardize the prosecution."

The "well-established process" should have been initiated in order to safeguard confidence in the system. And Robert McCulloch should have recused himself, and a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the killing of Michael Brown.

With prosecutor McCulloch in charge of the Mike Brown case the outcome was déjà vu.

I'm however pleased that the Justice Department is conducting its own inquiry. In the words of governor Nixon, "that's the kind of independent, external, national review and investigation of this that I think that will assist everyone in making sure we get to justice."

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