Court Backs Prosecutor on Ferguson Police Killing


     ST. LOUIS (CN) — A group wanting a special prosecutor appointed to investigate St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s actions regarding the Michael Brown grand jury failed to state a case, a Missouri appeals court found.
     Brown, an unarmed black man, was fatally shot by then Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, on Aug.9, 2014. Brown’s shooting sparked months of often violent protests in Ferguson and brought the issues of excessive force and racism by police into the national conversation.
     In November 2014, a St. Louis County grand jury returned with a “no true bill,” leading to no criminal indictment of Wilson. The decision sparked even more violence as dozens of Ferguson businesses were set on fire that night.
     On Jan. 15, 2015, the plaintiffs filed similar affidavits claiming McCulloch operated the grand jury investigation “in an arbitrary manner and in bad faith.” They wanted a special prosecutor appointed to investigate McCulloch’s handling of the grand jury investigation.
     Since the plaintiffs were not present for the grand jury proceedings, their evidence comes from publicly released transcripts and evidence from the grand jury.
     On Feb. 23, 2015, McCulloch filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
     Before a hearing on McCulloch’s motion was held, the Justice Department issued a report on March 4, 2015, stating that Wilson did not violate Brown’s civil rights.
     A hearing was conducted on April 24, 2015, and was continued until May 29, 2015, to give the plaintiffs time to file supplemental briefs on whether McCulloch was subject to impeachment or recall.
     On July 2, 2015, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Joseph L. Walsh III granted McCulloch’s motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiffs had failed to show that McCulloch had committed a willful or fraudulent violation of his official duty nor had they shown that he knowingly or willfully failed or refused to enforce Missouri’s criminal laws.
     The plaintiffs appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District, which affirmed Walsh’s ruling on Tuesday.
     “Respondent was faced with a situation where community interest in the outcome of the grand jury was very high, and his stated purpose in presenting all the evidence to the grand jury was to be as transparent as possible in the proceedings,” Judge Roy L. Richter wrote. “Appellant may disagree with whether this was the best possible approach for securing an indictment against Officer Wilson, but Respondent properly exercised his discretion and decided that the need for transparency in the proceedings was in the best interest of serving justice. None of Appellants’ allegations against Respondent rise to the level of ‘knowingly or willfully’ failing to perform an official duty. Respondent on the contrary performed his duty the best way he saw fit, and the grand jury ultimately decided not to return an indictment. It is not a failure of Respondent’s duty as a prosecutor to not secure an indictment in every case.”
     Presiding Judge Robert G. Dowd and Judge Mary K. Hoff concurred.
     Peter Krane, who represented McCullough, lauded the ruling.
     “We think that not only did the Court of Appeals on a de novo review find that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim, but they also expressly stated that Mr. McCulloch acted in good faith and that Judge Walsh did not abuse his discretion in dismissing the case,” Krane told Courthouse News.
     Jerryl Christmas, who represented the plaintiffs, was not available for immediate comment Thursday morning.

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