Michael Brown’s Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Ferguson & Darren Wilson

     CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) – Michael Brown’s family Thursday filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Ferguson, its ex-police chief and former police Officer Darren Wilson.
     Wilson’s killing of Brown on Aug. 9 last year set off weeks of often violent protests and an international debate on racism and excessive police force.
     Federal and state prosecutors declined to charge Wilson criminally, which set off more protests.
     Brown’s family claims the fatal shooting could have been prevented. They seek punitive damages for constitutional violations and failure to hire, train and conduct a proper investigation.
     “The evidence has not changed, but the presentation of it will,” family attorney Anthony Gray told reporters.
     Gray said new evidence, including bullets recovered from surrounding buildings, shows that Wilson was shooting at Brown while Brown was running away, which would discredit Wilson’s account.
     Gray also said Wilson has changed his story several times.
     Another Brown family attorney, Benjamin Crump, said this case is about standing up to the sanctioned killing of unarmed people of color in America by police.
     “The bottom line is simply this: Officer Darren Wilson did not have to use deadly force on that sad afternoon in the Canfield community,” Crump told reporters. “We believe, based on forensic and physical evidence, that Michael Brown should not have been killed.”
     The morning news conference announcing the lawsuit was not without tense moments. One woman carried a sign stating: “My Family & Friends Support Officer Wilson and the Police.” She stayed for about 10 minutes and left without incident.
     The merits of the case are a hot topic among St. Louis-area civil rights attorneys.
     “It’s not a case where I perceive the plaintiff as a dead-dog loser, but it is certainly not a case where it is a slam dunk,” attorney Stephen Ryals told Courthouse News.
     The Brown family’s attorneys said they will present much of the same evidence that prosecutors saw when they declined to prosecute, but that it will be presented in a much different light.
     “The one thing you can’t say about the two criminal investigations is that the evidence wasn’t tested under the gauntlet of cross-examination by advocates of Michael Brown,” Ryals said. “That’s huge.
     “It may not carry the day … but the trial case will look a lot different than the presentation to the grand jury for example.”
     Attorney Richard Sindel added: “There may be experts who disagree with the expert the state and government utilized on the evidence in the case.”
     The fundamental difference between the lack of a criminal case against Wilson and the civil case is burden of proof.
     Criminal cases have the highest burden of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt.
     Civil cases need only a preponderance of evidence.
     “In a civil case, you can be negligent,” Sindel told Courthouse News. “You could have done something more or thought of something different. In a criminal case, those don’t come into play.”
     Both sides have physical obstacles to overcome.
     Attorneys for Brown’s family have to overcome the fact that both state and federal prosecutors declined to charge Wilson criminally. Also, a videotape from a nearby convenience store appears to show Brown committing robbery moments before the shooting.
     Wilson’s attorneys have to overcome the fact the there is a dead, unarmed man in the middle of the street who was shot multiple times in broad daylight.
     The Department of Justice in March released a scathing report finding that the Ferguson Police Department created years of animosity through a pattern of racial profiling that led to the violence after Brown’s death.
     Admitting the entire report or parts of it into evidence could become a hot topic for attorneys involved in the case.
     “They may not be able to submit the entire report as evidence, but certainly possible portions of the report can be entered either through judgment or stipulations,” Sindel said.
     Jury selection will also be difficult, given the international headlines the case has attracted.
     “Unless you have lived in a cave for the last year, you know about the shooting and the aftermath and the investigation,” Ryals said. “The lawyers will have to work out finding jurors willing to set aside their feelings.”
     Sindel said the publicity could offer an unusual opportunity to find a qualified jury. In such cases, judges can give attorneys more leeway in vetting jurors.
     One example Sindel mentioned was the possibility of submitting a written questionnaire to prospective jurors to determine their feelings on the case.
     “I know it sounds strange, but some people don’t want to raise their hand and say, ‘I don’t want to be a fair person,'” Sindel said. “Some do, some don’t, but with a questionnaire, more might be willing to say that.”
     The 44-page lawsuit, which also named former Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson as a defendant, was filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court.
     Peter Dunne, an attorney for Ferguson, told Courthouse News that he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and had no comment.

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