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Justice Department Will Not Charge Darren Wilson In Connection With Michael Brown Shooting

Darren Wilson

The Department of Justice announced today that former Ferguson, Missouri Police Office Darren Wilson will not face Federal prosecution related to the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown:

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has cleared a Ferguson, Mo., police officer of civil rights violations in the shooting of Michael Brown, a black teenager whose death set off racially charged and sometimes violent protests last year.

The decision, which was announced on Wednesday, ends a lengthy investigation into the shooting last August, in which Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Mr. Brown in the street. Many witnesses said Mr. Brown had his hands up in surrender when he died, leading to nationwide protest chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

But federal agents and civil rights prosecutors rejected that story, just as a state grand jury did in November. The Justice Department said forensic evidence and other witnesses backed up the account of Officer Wilson, who said Mr. Brown fought with him, reached for his gun, then charged at him. He told investigators that he feared for his life.

“There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety,” the report said.

The report found that witnesses who claimed that Mr. Brown was surrendering were not credible. “Some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witnesses’ own prior statements with no explanation,” it said.

“Although some witnesses state that Brown held his hands up at shoulder level with his palms facing outward for a brief moment, these same witnesses describe Brown then dropping his hands and ‘charging’ at Wilson,” it added.

“Those witness accounts stating that Brown never moved back toward Wilson could not be relied upon in a prosecution because their accounts cannot be reconciled with the DNA bloodstain evidence and other credible witness accounts.”

Unlike the state investigation, the Justice Department’s inquiry produced a lengthy public report explaining the legal conclusions and its analysis.

From the beginning, civil rights charges represented a difficult hurdle for prosecutors to clear. The law requires prosecutors to prove that Officer Wilson willfully violated Mr. Brown’s civil rights when he shot him. Courts have given officers wide latitude when deciding when to use deadly force if they feel their lives are in danger.

The shooting report is separate from a broader civil rights investigation that found widespread civil rights abuses by the Ferguson Police Department.

This outcome is hardly a surprise to anyone who has been following the investigation and the various reports about what both the Federal and State investigations uncovered in the wake of the shooting that left Brown dead and started off a wave of protests that became violent both over the summer and in November when a St. Louis County Grand Jury declined to indict Wilson on state charges First of all, as I’ve noted several times during the course of this case, and in connection with the George Zimmerman case, the legal findings that have to be met in order for the Federal Government to acquire jurisdiction are more stringent than those that the St. Louis County Grand Jury had to find when they were considering the case. In addition to the question of whether or not Wilson’s action in shooting Brown was a justifiable use of force, the Federal Government would also be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Wilson acted with the intention of violating Brown’s civil rights. Given the fact that the Grand Jury had already found that there was insufficient evidence to indict Wilson on a homicide charge, it would have been incredibly difficult for Federal prosecutors to prove their case at all. Additionally, as the investigation unfolded there were various reports that it was unlikely that Federal charges would be filed against Wilson and that the evidence that the investigation by both Federal and State investigators was uncovering was largely consistent with the version of events related by Officer Wilson. Finally, just over a month ago reports started to surface that it was likely that the Justice Department would not pursue civil rights charges against Wilson in connection with this case. Today’s announcement, then, simply confirms what seemed obvious some months ago.

Given the available evidence, this seems like a proper decision by the Justice Department. Even leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not one believes the state Grand Jury made the right decision in declining to indict Wilson on any charges at all in this case, there was quite simply no evidence that Wilson acted in a manner that even came close to violating Federal civil rights laws. Instead, this seems to be a police encounter gone wrong. If Wilson acted improperly, it doesn’t appear to have been out of any racial motive, and the evidence that has been released both in connected with the Grand Jury investigation and this investigation seem to make clear that Wilson’s use of force was, in the end, appropriate under the circumstances. Indicting him on Federal charges would have likely just led to an acquittal, and would have been an unjust application of Federal law.

This, of course, is essentially the end of the road as far as the criminal investigation into the Michael Brown shooting is concerned. While the state Grand Jury’s failure to indict doesn’t bar filing state criminal charges in the future if new evidence is uncovered, it seems extremely unlikely to say the least that  this would happen in this case or that there is any “new evidence” to uncover that would justify submitting the matter to another Grand Jury. As in the Zimmerman case, there will likely be a Wrongful Death case in this matter at some point in the future, but in this case Wilson will be a co-defendant with the Ferguson Police Department and will most likely be covered by whatever insurance policy(ies) the department or the city may have that would be applicable in this situation. In addition, a parallel investigation of the Ferguson Police Department by the Justice Department has reportedly resulted in findings of long-standing and widespread violations of the rights of African-Americans and other minorities. What steps the department will take in response to these findings will apparently be announced by outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder later today. In the long run, though, the issues raised by the Brown shooting, and by other cases across the country, regarding police relationships with minority communities, police militarization, and the apparent unwillingness of the legal system to punish police for wrongdoing are ones our nation will continue to struggle with until they are dealt with honestly.

Here’s the Justice Department report on its investigation of the shooting of Michael Brown:

DOJ Ferguson Report by Doug Mataconis

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. stonetools says:

    This Tweet says it all, really:

    Y’all acting surprised Darren Wilson wasn’t charged when Ferguson PD spent the first 48 hours making sure there was no evidence of a crime.

    When a racist police department investigates one of its own for shooting an unarmed black man, there really can only be one result, whether its 1914, 1954, or 2014.
    Doug already announced that the DOJ wouldn’t prosecute Wilson. Don’t see why he would do it again, and bury deep in the article the real news: that the DOJ documented that the Ferguson Police Department is a thouroughly racist organization,little more than the KKK in uniform. I guess Jenos will be along in a minute that to tell us that racist though the Ferguson Police Department is, we should nonetheless trust their investigation of the Darren Wilson case, and that Saint Darren was really and truly innocent..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 5

  2. humanoid.panda says:

    Given the ugly and explosive nature of the DOJ report on the mini-Apartheid state Ferguson PD is running, this story is basically the dictionary definition of burying the lede.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  3. gVOR08 says:

    @stonetools: The cops in the Cleveland shooting may be in trouble. Unlike Wilson they made the inadvertent mistake of filing their reports before the security camera video surfaced.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  4. Since the report on the Ferguson PD was not being officially released until Holder’s press conference, which just concluded moments before I posted this comment, It seemed premature to address that topic without further details. Which is why I made note of it at the end of this post while planning to address it n a post later today or tomorrow morning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. stonetools says:

    @gVOR08:

    That should be a clear case. But given what I have seen in the last year, I’m not counting on a just result in that case either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  6. Jack says:

    From the beginning, civil rights charges represented a difficult hurdle for prosecutors to clear. The law requires prosecutors to prove that Officer Wilson willfully violated Mr. Brown’s civil rights when he shot him.

    I’m sure Jessie, Sharpton, and Holder will get their wish to change the law to allow anyone suspected of violating a minority’s civil rights to be prosecuted simply because they are a named suspect—no investigation needed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 16

  7. humanoid.panda says:

    @Doug Mataconis: My apologies then.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. C. Clavin says:

    @Jack:

    no investigation needed

    What the Justice Department investigation does show — in sharp relief — is that the Ferguson police routinely violate the constitutional rights of black residents. I can only assume by your comments, both now and previously, that you whole-heartedly support that.
    Good on you Jack.
    Meanwhile David Patraeus gets a slap on the wrist for giving away classified information.
    That’s the kind of Justice you like, right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  9. Modulo Myself says:

    The Ferguson PD are racist animals–

    During the summer of 2012, one Ferguson police officer detained a 32-year-old African American man who had just finished playing basketball at a park. The officer approached while the man was sitting in his car and resting. The car’s windows appeared to be more heavily tinted than Ferguson’s code allowed, so the officer did have legitimate grounds to question him. But, with no apparent justification, the officer proceeded to accuse the man of being a pedophile. He prohibited the man from using his cell phone and ordered him out of his car for a pat-down search, even though he had no reason to suspect that the man was armed. And when the man objected – citing his constitutional rights – the police officer drew his service weapon, pointed it at the man’s head, and arrested him on eight different counts. The arrest caused the man to lose his job.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  10. @humanoid.panda:

    I probably should have noted that intended to address that report separately in the body of the post, no apology necessary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. humanoid.panda says:

    @Doug Mataconis: This is better discussed at that future thread, but I think one thing to think about is not so much the policing and racial aspects of the problem, but the light it casts on two major issues no one is talking about: the extent to which local control and indirect taxes are totally screwing the poor in this country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  12. Tyrell says:

    It was no surprise that the DOJ is not going to charge Officer Wilson. What is surprising is the unusual report that describes the racism in the Ferguson Police Dept. But what does the Attorney General propose to do about it ? I did not get to read the details. I remember that AG Holder went to Ferguson, made some appearances, statements and then left. He could have stayed and helped the police department develop some strategies and plans to improve.
    Here are some ideas that other communities have done: recruit people from the community to enter law enforcement. Sponsor community activities such as car shows, art shows, street fairs, and volleyball tournaments. Organize neighborhood watch programs to take the load off police and reduce crime. Hold gun safety workshops. Put more police walking the streets, maybe horseback. Get the churches involved . Develop a community program to eliminate gangs and drug dealers. Organize activities for youth, such as swimming lessons, fixing up houses, and robotics/science fairs.
    This sort of lengthy investigation by the DOJ should be applied to many unsolved cases still open and hanging over this country: the Oswald conspiracy, James Earl Ray frameup, and the scam trial of the Booth conspirators. Solving just one of those cases would make AG Holder’s career and put him in the history books.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

  13. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Tyrell:

    many unsolved cases still open and hanging over this country: the Oswald conspiracy, James Earl Ray frameup, and the scam trial of the Booth conspirators.

    😀

    I have nothing …

    Love you, T. You’re one of a kind …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  14. Gustopher says:

    It is much, much harder to prove that racism was a motive in a specific incident than it is to show that there is a disproportionate affect across the entire department.

    Justice in this particular case may or may not ever be served (I think Officer Warren was likely targeting Brown because of his race, and that he is also spectacularly bad at his job in escalating rather than deescalating the encounter — but I could be wrong), but the broad problem across the department is much more important moving forward.

    And the broad problem of racism across the department is at least as important to understanding the community reaction as Brown’s background.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  15. bk says:

    @Tyrell:

    He could have stayed and helped the police department develop some strategies and plans to improve.

    Because, of course, he had no other things on his schedule.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  16. al-Ameda says:

    Frankly, the Justice Department is racist for pointing these facts out.

    This certainly seems to be an opportunity for the Ferguson Police Department to turn their backs to the Obama Administration, right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1