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Indy attorney analyzes legal proceedings in Ferguson case

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In the days following the grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, many have voiced their disappointment. In a statement released shortly after St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s televised press conference on Nov. 24, the National Bar Association shared their concerns. “The grand jury’s decision confirms the fear that many expressed months ago — that a fair and impartial investigation would not happen. The National Bar Association is adamant about our desire for transformative justice. While we are disappointed with the grand jury’s ruling, we are promoting peace on every street corner around the world.”

Indianapolis attorney, Patrick Chavis IV, said although he tried to remain open minded throughout the process, there were several concerns that contributed to the widely-held belief that Brown’s family had been dealt an injustice. “We (the public) were not privy to all the facts and all the evidence that was presented to the grand jury,” he said. “However, it is awfully rare that you do not get an indictment out of this process.”

Some key issues

The nighttime drama

“Everything seemed unnatural,” said Chavis of the events leading up to the grand jury’s announcement (including Gov. Jay Nixon’s decision to declare a state of emergency a week prior to the announcement). “It seemed choreographed to the point that it was almost theatre – the length of time it took to reveal the decision, the choice to wait until it was dark outside, the fact that the press conference started late, everything.”

Discrediting witnesses

In McCulloch’s statement on the 24th, he said several of the eyewitness accounts of the shooting were unfounded because they did not line up with the physical evidence. He also slammed the media and its “insatiable appetite for something, for anything to talk about.” According to Chavis, this goes against the primary objective of a prosecutor. “The problem is, when it appears that you set your case up for failure that’s where the injustice comes in,” he said. “What you don’t do, as a prosecutor, is present evidence against your own case in a grand jury scenario – it brings into question the credibility of the process itself and that’s where the travesty of justice occurs.”

The evidence: leaked and released

Throughout the investigation and grand jury proceedings there have been publicized breaches of security including the October leak of Michael Brown’s autopsy report. Following the Nov. 24 announcement, in an unusual move, the St. Louis prosecutor’s office released 24 volumes of transcripts from interviews heard by the grand jury over the course of three months. Since the release of these documents, several experts have begun to call into question some aspects of officer Wilson’s testimony, subsequently impacting public trust in the judicial system according to Chavis. “Grand jury proceedings are a secret process and there’s no way we would have had access to the transcripts and the evidence, but for some reason (McCulloch) decided to release all of this documentation and now everything is being second guessed,” said Chavis. “All of our opinions, thoughts, and gut feelings are now able to be confirmed because we can independently read what happened and come to our own conclusions. If they were trying to cover up the process this wasn’t a smart way to do it.”

No special prosecutor

Since August of this year, several parties including attorneys representing the Brown family, have called for a special prosecutor to be appointed to insure an impartial and fair process. During his 23 year tenure, according to an investigation by Missouri Lawyers Weekly, McCulloch’s office has handled at least five grand jury investigations into fatalities involving on-duty police officers. Of the five cases identified (spanning 1992-2001) none resulted in an indictment. McCulloch’s personal family ties with the local police department were also called into question. His father, who served as an officer in St. Louis, was fatally wounded.

“I think other prosecutors will have to be very careful in creating this kind of sense of impartiality in the process,” said Chavis. “McCulloch should have, in my opinion, pushed for a special prosecutor. That’s how he could have covered himself – there are perception issues. I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want to be recused from the process just to make sure it was clean.”

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