Tag: Darren Wilson

The DOJ and Darren Wilson

The DOJ released their report today on why they will not be prosecuting Darren Wilson. The report concludes that the shooting of Michael Brown was most likely justified, citing the favorable testimony of disinterested witnesses and the unreliability of the witnesses who said Michael Brown surrendered. They report includes a lot more testimony than the Grand Jury report and is pretty convincing.


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.

I didn’t believe Wilson’s story because the idea of Michael Brown charging at him from so far away made no sense to me. But that now appears very likely to be what happened. People do stupid things, especially young male people.

There is one thing to note, however, from Ken White, a former prosecutor:

I find it remarkable because most potential prosecutions don’t get this sort of analysis. Most investigations don’t involve rigorous examination of the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses. Most investigations don’t involve painstaking consideration of the defendant’s potential defenses. Often investigators don’t even talk to potential defense witnesses, and if they do, don’t follow up on leads they offer. Most investigations don’t carefully weigh potentially incriminating and potentially exculpatory scientific evidence. If an explanation of the flaws in a case requires footnotes, you shouldn’t expect it to deter prosecution.

Instead, I’m more used to the prosecution assuming their witnesses are truthful, even if they are proven liars. I’m more used to contrary evidence being cynically disregarded. I’m more used to participants in the system stubbornly presuming guilt to the bitter end. I’m more used to prosecutors disregarding potentially exculpatory evidence that they think isn’t “material.” I’m more used to the criminal justice system ignoring exculpatory science and clinging to inculpatory junk science like an anti-vaxxer.

Why is this case different? It’s different because Darren Wilson is a cop. Cops get special rights and privileges and breaks the rest of us don’t. Cops get an extremely generous and lenient benefit of the doubt from juries. Nearly every segment of the criminal justice system operates to treat cops more favorably than the rest of us.

I would make two points of minor disagreement here. First of all, the reason this case was investigated so thoroughly was because of the national pressure that was brought to bear. The government was forced to explain, in great detail, why they were not going to bring a case. Of course, most of the time they don’t even bother. They don’t bring charges and we’re just supposed to accept that.

And that brings me to a second minor disagreement: it’s not just cops. Everyone who is in the system is treated differently than the rest of us. Just this week, David Petraeus was allowed to plead out to a misdemeanor for leaking the kind of information that would land most of us in prison for a felony. Hillary Clinton was revealed to have violated protocols and State Department rules, something that would ruin most people’s careers (and Clinton has a long history of breaking the rules and getting away with it). Seven cops and prosecutors were revealed to have lied their asses off in an effort to put an innocent man in jail and may face no consequences. More pot convictions were handed down to people who probably touched less of the stuff than our last three Presidents. The problem is more noticeable with cops because they are authorized to use deadly force and because of reflexive “thin blue line” defensiveness whenever a cop is accused of wrong-doing (although, to be fair, no cop will ever kill as many people as the State Department does with their unaccountable bungling). But this problem is general and it is widespread.

Darren Wilson didn’t shoot Michael Brown in the back. He almost certainly didn’t shoot him after he surrendered. But it’s hard to blame people for distrusting the system when it so often concludes that the people within are incapable of wrong-doing, be they cop, bureaucrat or politician. It’s hard to blame people for distrusting the system when it gives us a hell of a lot less benefit of a doubt, whether we’ve shot someone or made a mistake on our taxes. It’s hard to blame people for distrusting the system when it throws non-violent pot offenders in prison for half a century while concluding, almost instantly, that the people who seared a toddler did nothing wrong because they were acting on behalf of the state.

(And, in this particular case, it’s hard to blame people for distrusting the system when the DOJ has also released a report showing massive systematic racism in the city.)

I’m glad that Wilson will not be prosecuted for what now appears to have been a justified shooting. It’s one of the few things Holder’s DOJ has done right. But I wish this kind of skepticism was applied a lot more often and to people who are not cops, politicians, prosecutors, bureaucrats or political hacks.

Thrill (actually, Thrill’s sister; smarts clearly run in that family) made a very good point when the Grand Jury verdict was handed down:

My sister said it perfectly: “This is the wrong case to ask the right questions about”.

It’s now pretty conclusive that this was the wrong case. But let’s keep asking the right questions.

The Ferguson Decision

(Note: As I was writing this, Thrill put up his own post, which I recommend you read as well.)

As you have probably heard, the grand jury refused to indict Officer Darren Wilson tonight. A few thoughts:

First, this is not a surprise. Grand juries are reluctant to indict officers even when there is solid evidence of excessive force. They are reluctant to convict officers when there is clear evidence of excessive force. Three years ago, a group of police officers beat Kelly Thomas to death. He was unarmed but mentally disturbed. On the video tape, he tells the officers he is trying to cooperate, tells them he can’t breath and calls out for his father. He died from the massive injuries inflicted on him that night. The jury acquitted the officers who killed him. Earlier this year, John Crawford was walking around Walmart with a toy gun. Officers, responding to a 911 call, gunned him down almost immediately after seeing him. The jury did not indict.

Keep something in mind, though: it is incredibly rare for a grand jury to not indict. You can read a first-hand account from Ken White, a former prosecutor, here, about how the grand jury process tends to work. What the DA did in this case: not asking the jury to consider a specific charge, was unusual and made it a lot more likely that no true bill would be returned. This is not a degree of skepticism that is applied to average citizens. It is only applied to those on the side of government.

Second, I don’t know what happened in this case and neither does anyone except Officer Wilson. A lot of people have been claiming that Wilson had been “vindicated” by some of the physical evidence (Brown’s DNA in the car, etc.). I don’t see that. Parts of his story check out. But the one part of the story that is most critical — his claim that Michael Brown fled 50 yards down the street, turned and charged into a hail of bullets — is still unproven. Whether Michael Brown was a choirboy or not is irrelevant. What matters is what happened in those critical seconds. And there are conflicting witness accounts of that.

Third, none of this changes the fundamental problems that are still present in Ferguson and in other cities: a gung-ho militarized culture, an extensive use of military-grade weapons, a hatred of sunshine that led to the arrest of two reporters and a ban on air travel that is now known to have been implemented to keep the media out. In the aftermath of the Brown shooting, the police still pointed military weapons at peaceful protesters, still responded to taunts with tear gas, still responded to FOIA requests with a incident report that was essentially blank. If they had wanted to enrage people, they could not have picked a better strategy. And the underlying problem, presented in start detail by Radley Balko, remains.

Fourth, anyone who responds to this incident with violence or looting is not helping. For the most part, these are thugs taking advantage of the situation. They are outnumbered by the peaceful protesters but they will be the face of this. The windows they smash, the cars they burn — that is what people will remember. And that’s a terrible pity.

There are real things that can be done about this. But it will involve a lot of hard work to change our government, our culture and our law enforcement. Is anyone willing to do that?