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Ferguson: Specific Incidents From Justice Department’s Report

by St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

ST. LOUIS — The Justice Department released a 102-page report describing its finding that the Ferguson Police Department abused its authority and unfairly targeted African-Americans. The report included specific incidents, based either on official police reports or individual interviews:

• In 2013, police were headed toward an apartment to make an arrest and came upon a black man in a car in the parking lot. They knew the man was not the person they were seeking, but they handcuffed him, put him in the patrol car and ran his name. It turned out, the man was the landlord of the person who was sought. Police defended the action even though they had no reason to hold the man.

• In 2012, police pulled over a black man and said his brake light was out. But the man had recently replaced the light and knew it was working. When the man wanted to show police the light was working, they ordered him not to get out of the car. He was cited.

• A black man told the DOJ he was sitting at a bus stop when a patrol car pulled up. A lieutenant rolled down the window and yelled at the man, using profanity, to come over. The officer demanded the man’s ID. The man asked, “Why, what did I do?” “Stop being a smart ass and give me your ID,” the lieutenant replied. The officer ran the man’s name, found no warrants and told the man “to get the hell out of my face.”

• In 2013, an officer approached five young African-Americans listening to music in a car. The officer said he smelled marijuana and arrested all five, even after he found no marijuana when he searched the car. The charge was disorderly conduct.

• An officer arrested two sisters in 2011 as they backed their car into their driveway. He claimed they had been idling their car in the middle of the street. One sister was arrested for not providing an ID; the other for getting out of the car when he had told her to stay inside. The sisters spent three hours in jail.

• Two men were sitting in a car on a public street when an officer demanded their IDs. One man protested and was arrested for failure to comply.

• A man was leaving the police station when officers arrived to take custody of another man wanted on a state charge. The officers stopped the man who was leaving and asked for his ID. He declined, saying he didn’t have to provide it. The man also declined to be frisked. Then, when the man offered his ID, the officers interpreted his hand movement as an assault and took him to the ground. The man was charged with two counts of failure to comply and two counts of resisting arrest.

• A business owner was arrested in 2012 for interfering with police business and abuse of 911 when she objected to her employee being detained for “walking unsafely in the street.” The owner came out three times to complain and called 911 to complain to the chief.

• A black man, 20, was stopped for dancing in the street. The officer ran the man’s names and found no warrants so he told the man he could go. The man responded with profanity. When the officer told him to watch his language, the man continued to use profanity and was arrested for “manner of walking in roadway.”

• In January 2014, police attempted to arrest a young black man for trespass, even though his girlfriend had invited him to the home of her grandparents. Seven officers struck and tased the young man.

• In a 2012 incident, Ferguson police officers responded to a fight at a local bar that involved white suspects. Officers reported encountering “40-50 people actively fighting, throwing bottles and glasses, as well as chairs.” The report noted that “one subject had his ear bitten off.” While the responding officers reported using force, they only used “minimal baton and flashlight strikes as well as fists, muscling techniques and knee strikes.” While the report states that “due to the amount of subjects fighting, no physical arrests were possible,” it notes also that four subjects were brought to the station for “safekeeping.” DOJ investigators found the handling of the incident stood “in stark contrast” to the actions officers took in similar incidents involving black suspects.

• A 16-year-old African-American, suspected in a car theft, ran. Police chased him to a vacant house where the teen hid in a closet. An officer with a dog, without warning, opened the closet door and sent the dog in. The dog bit the boy and dragged him out of the closet. Another officer tased the boy three times while the boy was struggling with the dog.

• In 2013, an officer saw an African-American man talk to another man in a truck and then walk away. The officer stopped the man and asked for his ID. The man declined to answer questions or submit to a frisk, saying he had done nothing wrong. The officer tased the man, causing him to fall to the ground. The officer then tased the man again.

• In 2014, a black couple let their young children urinate in the bushes at a park. An officer threatened to arrest the parents for allowing the children to expose themselves. He took the man into custody for parental neglect, and when the woman began videotaping the interaction the police officer yelled, “You don’t videotape me!” The officers drove away and the woman followed, continuing to tape. The officer stopped the car and arrested the woman on traffic citations. When her husband asked the officer to show mercy, the officer said he would not because the woman wanted to videotape. He took the cellphone. When it was returned, the video had been erased.

• One white individual who has lived in Ferguson for 48 years told investigators that it feels like Ferguson’s police and court system is “designed to bring a black man down … (there are) no second chances.” Other African-American residents told of Ferguson’s “long history of targeting blacks for harassment and degrading treatment.” An African-American minister of a church in a nearby community said he doesn’t allow his two sons to drive through Ferguson out of “fear that they will be targeted for arrest.”

• In April 2012, officers allegedly called an African-American woman a “bitch” and a “mental case” at the jail following an arrest

• In September 2012, a 28-year resident of Ferguson complained to police about a traffic stop in which a lieutenant approached in a loud and confrontational manner with his hand on his holstered gun. The resident, who had a military police background, noted that the lieutenant’s behavior, especially having his hand on his gun, ratcheted up the tension, and he questioned why the lieutenant had been so aggressive.

• In an undated incident, a woman called police to report a domestic disturbance. By the time the police arrived, the woman’s boyfriend had left. The police looked through the house and saw indications that the boyfriend lived there. When the woman told police that only she and her brother were listed on the home’s occupancy permit, the officer placed the woman under arrest for the permit violation, and she was jailed.

• Another woman called police to report a separate domestic disturbance and was given a summons for an occupancy permit violation. She said, according to the officer’s report, that she “hated the Ferguson Police Department and will never call again, even if she is being killed.”

• A young African-American man was shot while walking on the road with three friends. The police department located and interviewed two of the friends about the shooting. After the interview, they arrested and jailed one of these cooperating witnesses, who was 19, on an outstanding municipal warrant.

• In May 2014, a man rushed to the scene of a car accident involving his girlfriend, who was badly injured and bleeding profusely when he arrived. He approached and tried to calm her. When officers arrived, they treated him rudely, according to the man, telling him to move away. The officers said he resisted, so they handcuffed and arrested him. Meanwhile, the accident victim remained unattended, bleeding from her injuries. Officers charged the man with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, assault on a law enforcement officer, obstructing government operations and failure to comply. His vehicle was also towed and impounded.

• In 2013, a woman sought to reach her fiance, who was in a car accident. After she refused to stay on the sidewalk as the officer ordered, she was arrested and jailed.

• Ferguson police failed to investigate allegations that an officer had kicked a man in the side of the head and stepped on his head and back while he was face down with his hands cuffed behind his back. The man said the beating did not stop until another officer on the scene said words to the effect of, “(h)ey, he’s not fighting he’s cuffed.” There was no internal affairs investigation or use-of-force report relative to the reported incident.

• An officer investigating a report of a theft at a dollar store interrogated a minister pumping gas into his church van about the theft. The minister alleged that he provided his identification to the officer and offered to return to the store to prove he was not the thief. The officer instead handcuffed him and drove him to the store. The store clerk reported that the detained man was not the thief, but the officer continued to keep the man cuffed, allegedly calling him “fg stupid” for asking to be released from the cuffs. The minister filed a complaint with Ferguson police. After an investigation the complaint was reclassified as “withdrawn” because the minister did not respond to a cellphone message left by the investigator within 13 days.

Photo: Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, pictured at far right, leaves the FBI offices in St. Louis after meeting with federal officials on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Officer In Ferguson, Missouri Shooting Testifies Before Grand Jury

By Kim Bell and Robert Patrick, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

CLAYTON, Mo. — Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson testified here for almost four hours Tuesday in front of the St. Louis County grand jury investigating his Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, a source with knowledge of the investigation said Wednesday.

Wilson was not obligated to appear, and also has spoken with St. Louis County investigators twice and federal investigators once, the source said. The source said Wilson was “cooperative.”

A spokesman for Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch’s office, Ed Magee, refused to comment Wednesday on who has testified.

The shooting of Brown, 18, an African-American who was unarmed, by Wilson, who is white, gave rise to racially charged protests and looting. Some activists have threatened more of the same if the grand jury does not indict Wilson.

Police have said that Brown struggled with Wilson before being shot. Brown’s family and some witnesses have said Brown was surrendering when he died. Others who have spoken publicly said it was not clear what Brown was doing when he turned toward Wilson after fleeing from their initial encounter.

McCulloch has pledged to present every witness and every shred of evidence to let the grand jurors independently decide whether to indict Wilson, without the prosecutor making a recommendation. Magee has said that prosecutors will help them navigate legal issues.

Veteran defense lawyer John Rogers, who is not involved in this case, said Wednesday, “It’s unusual but not unheard of for a prosecutor to extend an invitation” for the target of an investigation to testify to a grand jury. He said he has rarely allowed it.

Witnesses cannot take their lawyers inside the grand jury chamber, although they may interrupt the proceedings to go outside for a consultation.

“You don’t always want to preview what your defense would be at such an early stage,” Rogers explained. He added, “I would only consider allowing my client to testify at a grand jury proceeding if I was convinced that the prosecutor presenting the evidence to the (grand jury) was convinced that his testimony would help them reach the decision not to indict.”

Attorney Chet Pleban, who is not part of this case but has represented a number of accused police officers, said that sworn grand jury testimony could be used in any state or federal prosecution, potentially exposing the witness to damaging questions.

“The problem in this case is, one way or the other, his story had to be told in order for this grand jury to know what was in his mind,” Pleban said. “And I don’t know any way to accomplish that other than to have him testify.”

Wilson must persuade grand jurors that he acted in reasonable fear of death or serious injury, Pleban said, “And he’s pretty much the only one that can do that.”

Evidence is being presented to a grand jury that was empaneled before the shooting, with a term recently extended at the prosecutor’s request to Jan. 7. At one point, McCulloch had predicted a decision in October.

The pace remains uncertain, but Tiffany Mitchell, a witness to the shooting who has spoken publicly about what she saw, has not yet been subpoenaed, her lawyer, Peter Cohen, said Wednesday.

McCulloch took the rare step of having audio recordings and a transcript made of the secret proceedings, with a promise to release them publicly if there is no indictment. McGee acknowledged that opening the material would require an order from a judge, who could say no.

Jim Cohen, an associate professor of law at Fordham University, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month that grand jury material rarely has been made public anywhere, even to scholars researching historical cases. He also worried that fear of being publicly identified might inhibit witnesses.

Magee said McCulloch’s office has talked about the potential effect on witnesses “a little bit” and “it’s still being discussed.” He said prosecutors could decide to withhold witness names, especially those who are not police officers and may have particular safety issues.

He said the names of the grand jurors will not be made public, and it was unclear whether documents would be released that necessarily would carry the foreperson’s signature.

Magee said the timing of the announcement of the grand jury’s decision, once it’s made, is “still being discussed.”

Back on Aug. 13, McCulloch urged that “anyone and everyone” with relevant information come forward. He said then that, “Absolutely everything will be presented to the grand jury, every scrap of paper that we have, every photograph that was taken, every bit of physical evidence that has been gathered, every video clip, anything that we can get.”

“Every witness who has anything at all to say will be presented to the grand jury,” he promised.

McCulloch has delegated management of the grand jury to two assistants: Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley. Alizadeh, who is white, is a homicide prosecutor with 27 years of experience.
Whirley, who is black, has the grand jury assignment, with 18 years of experience.

Christine Byers of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

AFP Photo/Joshua Lott

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Grand Jury Now Has Until January To Decide Whether To Charge Ferguson Officer

By Christine Byers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

CLAYTON, Mo. — The grand jury considering whether Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson should be criminally charged in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown now has until Jan. 7 to decide.

The extension of the grand jurors’ term of duty does not necessarily mean the job will take that long, officials said. But it could.

There is significant apprehension, especially along the West Florissant Avenue business strip hit by looting and rioting after the killing Aug. 9, that violence might return if the grand jury does not send Wilson to trial for something. Some activists have threatened as much.

A St. Louis County grand jury usually sits for four months, a period that for the current panel expired last week. State law provides for a term of up to six months, which moves the date to November. On Sept. 10, Circuit Judge Carolyn Whittington issued an order adding 60 days more.

“She extended it to the full amount allowed by law,” Court Administrator Paul Fox said Monday. But he said the grand jury will keeping meeting until Jan. 7 only if it needs to.

The panel now is hearing evidence in the Michael Brown case exclusively, and can meet whenever it needs to, Fox said.

The grand jury is 12 people selected from the standard jury pool to meet in secret, usually weekly, to hear evidence and decide whether criminal charges are warranted. It takes nine votes to issue an indictment, which sends a defendant to a public trial.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch can bypass a grand jury and take a case to trial by filing a complaint that goes first to a preliminary hearing, a public proceeding in which a judge decides if there should be a trial. Often, his office files a charge first and then obtains an indictment to replace it, avoiding the preliminary hearing.

McCulloch chose to take the full investigation of Wilson’s use of deadly force to the grand jury. He announced weeks ago that he would present all the evidence gathered, leaving to grand jurors the decision of what to do.

His spokesman, Ed Magee, said Monday it is a somewhat unusual circumstance in that the office is not asking the grand jury to endorse a charge already filed. He said prosecutors will help the grand jury navigate legal issues while drawing its own conclusion about what to do with Wilson.

Wilson is entitled but not obligated to testify. If he does, he must leave his attorney at the door.

Police said that Wilson, who is white, struggled with Brown, 18, who is black, and that during the episode Brown was killed by Wilson’s shots. Some witnesses claimed Brown was surrendering when he died.

AFP Photo/Joshua Lott

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