The media are spotlighting Ferguson, Missouri rioters who are upset over a grand jury’s recent decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old resident Michael Brown. But they’re ignoring the actions of the individual who may inadvertently have been most responsible for unleashing this recent wave of unrest: prosecutor Bob McCullough.
In mid-August 2014, about a week after Brown’s shooting death, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCullough made a fateful decision that would end up subjecting the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri—and the nation—to three months of nail-biting suspense and an all-but-guaranteed second round of mayhem and property destruction. McCullough set this chain of events in motion by submitting the Brown case to a county grand jury instead of declining to press charges against Wilson. He made this decision, even though the subsequent release of the grand jury proceedings’ transcript reveals that he had to have known that there was little or no physical evidence of criminal wrongdoing on Wilson’s part, and therefore no reason for a grand jury to convene.
How can we surmise that McCullough knew a grand jury was unnecessary? For one thing, McCullough took the unusual step of declining to file a charge before convening a jury. Contrary to his usual M.O., McCullough went straight to the jury, as though he didn’t believe there was enough evidence to prosecute Wilson.
McCullough also clearly wasn’t expecting an indictment based on the content of his remarkable press conference following the grand jury announcement. Social media was abuzz with Brown supporters who were aghast at how quickly McCullough seemed to have folded in buying into the jury’s decision, and how much time he spent agreeing with their conclusion that there wasn’t enough evidence to indict Wilson.
McCullough actually made some rather incisive statements about prosecutorial methods for corroborating witnesses’ statements and physical evidence, and even the very nature of epistemology. Here’s the key passage from his 30-minute summation:
“A common and highly effective method of challenging a statement is to compare it to the previous statements of the witness for consistency and to compare it with the physical evidence. Physical evidence does not change because of public pressure or personal agenda. Physical evidence does not look away as events unfold. Nor does it block out or add to memory. Physical evidence remains constant, and as such is a solid foundation upon which cases are built. When statements changed, witnesses were confronted with the inconsistencies and conflicts between their statements and the physical evidence. Some witnesses admitted they didn’t actually see the shooting or were only repeating what they heard on the street. Some others adjusted parts of their statements to fit the facts.”
Yet most of this compelling physical evidence was available before McCullough decided to convene a grand jury. So why did he insist on initiating this nonstarter if the evidence strongly suggested he do otherwise?
As with Florida special state prosecutor Angela Corey’s dubious, politically motivated decision to bring second-degree murder charges against George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting case in 2012, Democratic officeholder McCullough evidently wanted to give the appearance of being racially sensitive, even though he knew that his actions would only build anticipation in the populace and foment anger when the jury’s decision let them down.
McCullough’s words don’t match his actions: “I’m ever mindful that this decision will not be accepted by some, and may cause disappointment for others. But all decisions in the criminal justice system must be determined by the physical and scientific evidence and the credible testimony corroborated by that evidence, not in response to public outcry or for political expediency.”
So why did McCullough waste millions of taxpayer dollars on a two-month-long hearing whose conclusion we now know was foregone? Indeed, in a case that appeared so complex to outside observers, that required hundreds of hours of testimony, the grand jury deliberated for just two days before delivering their decision not to indict Wilson on any of the five possible charges against him.
Had McCullough used his prosecutorial discretion to decline to press charges back in August, there most certainly would have been outrage. Yet leading the public to believe that there was good reason to indict Wilson, when McCullough had seen all the evidence and knew this to be false, was irresponsible in the extreme. Leading Brown’s family and friends on was simply cruel.
Getting outraged over a perceived injustice and burning down innocent shop owners’ businesses is unjustified. But callously ginning up an aggrieved class of citizens into a murderous frenzy out of political cowardice is despicable.
- Grand jury: no indictment (conservativenewsandviews.com)
- What charges could Ferguson cop face? (cnn.com)
- Ferguson: No Indictment of Officer Wilson (theminorityreportblog.com)
- Ferguson grand jury reaches decision, attorney confirms (abc7.com)
- No indictment for Ferguson cop who shot Michael Brown (mashable.com)