The red flag flies high again on prosecution in Michael Brown slaying

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by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A little over a year ago the debate was fierce over whether Florida state prosecutor Angela “Tough on Crime” Corey assigned to prosecute George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin would dump the case. There was good reason for the debate.

Protesters demanding Gov. Nixon appoint a special prosecutor are surrounded by multiple law enforcement agencies as they try to shut down I-70 on Sept. 10. – Photo: KMOV
Protesters demanding Gov. Nixon appoint a special prosecutor are surrounded by multiple law enforcement agencies as they try to shut down I-70 on Sept. 10. – Photo: KMOV

Zimmerman was not a police officer. But he was seen as the next best or worst thing to it since he had close ties with law enforcement and was a one-time neighborhood watch patrol officer. This automatically bestowed on him the shield that cops have from any charges of misconduct, especially in cases where the victims of their misconduct are young African Americans or Hispanics.

The rest of course is history. Zimmerman walked in part because a jury believed his fairy tale that he was the victim of a Martin attack. But in larger part because prosecutors put up an inept, feeble and bumbling prosecution that again reconfirmed the nightmare fear that the rare times that cops are prosecuted for deadly force and the victims look like Martin, bad things almost always happen.

A year later the red flag that flew high with prosecutors in cop cases is flying even higher in the Michael Brown slaying. The instant that the call on whether to prosecute Brown’s killer, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, would be made by the hard-nosed St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCullough, who has a well-worn record of refusal to prosecute any officers who have been involved in dubious, even outrageous killings of mostly unarmed Black suspects, the screams were loud for a special prosecutor.

This hasn’t happened. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon emphatically said no. This could be subject to change, but it would take the near miracle of smoking-gun evidence that Brown was killed with absolutely no justification or provocation and the dogged refusal of McCullough to prosecute.

The reason for McCullough’s foot dragging or outright refusal to prosecute Wilson strikes to the heart of why he and other prosecutors either won’t prosecute officers or invariably blow the case against them the rare times they do. More than a decade ago, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in its landmark study, “Who’s Guarding the Guardians,” of the conduct of police and prosecutors in civil rights cases, told exactly why.

It cited the traditionally close relationship between district or county attorneys and police officers, who usually work together to prosecute criminals, the difficulties they have in convincing grand juries and trial juries that a police officer did not merely make an understandable mistake, but committed a crime, and the lack of information about cases that could be prosecuted or systems for reviewing possibly prosecutable cases.

The instant that the call on whether to prosecute Brown’s killer, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, would be made by the hard-nosed St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCullough, who has a well-worn record of refusal to prosecute any officers who have been involved in dubious, even outrageous killings of mostly unarmed Black suspects, the screams were loud for a special prosecutor.

These towering barriers have been glaringly evident in the Brown slaying. Wilson was put on pro forma paid leave, the Ferguson police chief released potentially damaging information about an alleged Brown heist at a convenience store, rallies were held and hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised in Wilson’s defense.

And in the flood of news stories about the killing, Wilson has been depicted as a hardworking, model cop. There is also no ironclad standard of what is or isn’t an acceptable use of force in police misconduct cases. It often comes down to a judgment call by the officer.

Ferguson has been demanding the arrest of killer cop Darren Wilson and the replacement of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch for weeks. This protest was held Aug. 20. – Photo: Robert MacPherson, AFP
Ferguson has been demanding the arrest of killer cop Darren Wilson and the replacement of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch for weeks. This protest was held Aug. 20. – Photo: Robert MacPherson, AFP

In the Rodney King beating case in 1992 in which four LAPD officers stood trial, defense attorneys painted King as the aggressor and claimed that the level of force used against him was justified. This pattern has been evident in a number of celebrated cases since then.

There’s yet another horrific fact about these cases. That’s the call for a special prosecutor who will take the case away from local police-friendly prosecutors and can be independent and objective.

Corey was a good example of where even that can go terribly wrong. She was the special prosecutor appointed to prosecute Zimmerman.

But again the U.S. Civil Rights Commission noted that the appointment of a special prosecutor does not guarantee that police officers accused of wrongdoing will be prosecuted and ultimately punished. In many cases, the special prosecutor is another county or district attorney selected from a neighboring jurisdiction that may be subject to the same biases and partiality as the original prosecutor.

The Commission cites numerous examples where special prosecutors have been appointed in high profile cases to eliminate real or perceived bias by local prosecutors for the defendants yet the prosecution has still failed to get a conviction.

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission noted that the appointment of a special prosecutor does not guarantee that police officers accused of wrongdoing will be prosecuted and ultimately punished.

In October, a grand jury supposedly will make the call whether to indict Wilson on charges in the Brown killing. Barring a dramatic development in the case, it will be up to McCullough to ask for an indictment and to supply evidence that will support an indictment. This is usually a mere formality and prosecutors get the green light to go forward.

But this can’t happen if no case is presented in the first place, and given McCullough’s track record and the past history of these cases, the odds are long that Wilson won’t spend a day in criminal court. This is why the red flag flies high again on prosecution in the Brown slaying.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor, an associate editor of New America Media, a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network, and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK Radio and the Pacifica Network. Follow him on Twitter:www.twitter.com/earlhutchinson. This story first appeared on the Huffington Post.

10 COMMENTS

  1. McCullough’s stance is to present the facts known to him without comment to the grand jury. As a matter of fact, he is not even interfacing with the grand jury and is letting his assistants handle this, both of whom are women, one being African American and the other of mixed Hispanic blood. …..but that information doesn’t suit YOUR stance, does it? To see the local African American community riot based solely on the input of Michael Brown’s friend is depressing. Let’s let the facts get aired and then make a judgement.

  2. “Zimmerman’s fairy tale, that he was attacked”…No need to read any further, the author is another 80 I.Q. race pimp. Move along!

  3. Thomas you just another online tough guy just like your bro zimmy who would (S)hit himself if he saw an African American five year old child walking on the street …. move along C.O.W.A.R.D nothing of importance scrawled in crayon by you to read here . The entire incident would have never happened if the pathological lying hot head had have listened to the police dispatch advising him not to harass and harangue an unarmed child! Read the police dispatch report the want to be cop reject and other various police reports…. attacking a police officer google it attacking his ex wife attacking his ex father in law attacking un armed skinny kid Trayvon. You two punks would do nothing without being armed to the teeth again read the variety of police reports on your bro if you can read. Your two freaks play with guns akin to phallic symbols, cowards that would not confront anyone without packing heat but not to worry goode olde Zimmy day’s are numbered he will tarry with the wrong person

  4. Zimmerman wasn’t attacked and Oscar Grant wasn’t a drug dealing thug who resisted arrest. Grant was a violent felon on parole who couldn’t even get to his job on time and when he’s fired what does he do? Threaten his boss. Typical. He got what he deserved.

    Brown is the same. A no good thug who decided the song “F*** da POlice” was what he was going to base his life on. He attacked an officer and he too got what he deserved.

    Here’s what I’ve always wondered. When a white police officer does his civic duty and rids the communitay of a useless drain on society why do all the colored folk riot and loot? Is a new big screen TV justice? Why do all the reverends and Sharpton come a runnin’ and rile up the communitay? However when one negro kills another negro the communitay says nothing and in most cases won’t even help to capture the suspect? There are no protests, riots – just a roadside memorial made of KFC buckets, candles and empty Hennessy bottles. Okay made some t-shirts too.

    Why the differences in responses?

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