Grand jury to hear evidence in Michael Brown case
08/18/14 02:54 PM—Updated 08/18/14 06:42 PM
By Zachary Roth
FERGUSON, Missouri – The office of the county prosecutor has said a grand jury could start hearing evidence Wednesday in the fatal shooting of unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown by a white police officer on August 9.
“We’re going to attempt to present evidence to the grand jury on Wednesday,” Ed Magee, a spokesman for St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, told msnbc, stressing the word “attempt.”
The Associated Press first reported news of the grand jury.
Gov. Jay Nixon announced on Monday there would be no curfew in Ferguson that night, after chaos and violence erupted in the St. Louis suburb late Sunday into Monday morning. Nixon also signed an order to call in the Missouri National Guard “to assist” in restoring peace and order to the community.
The release Monday morning of Michael Brown’s first autopsy – showing he was shot six times, including twice in the head – has intensified demands that Darren Wilson, the officer responsible for the teen’s death be charged. The county conducted its own autopsy soon after Brown’s death and Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a separate federal autopsy to be conducted as well.
The results upped the pressure on McCulloch, the man responsible for probing the shooting and potentially filing charges. McCulloch already was facing calls to step aside from the investigation amid questions about his ability to be impartial.
“Why hasn’t Officer Wilson been arrested?” shouted a woman at the press conference to announce the results of the autopsy, triggering a roar of support. The autopsy was conducted by Michael Baden, a New York pathologist at the request of the Brown family.
McCulloch had told the St. Louis Post Dispatch Saturday that he hoped to install a grand jury “within days.”
“We’re going to start presenting everything to the grand jury as quickly as we can,’’ he said. “We’re not going to wait until we have everything and then do it.”
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden told ABC News Monday morning that the only way to restore peace to Ferguson, which saw its most violent clashes Sunday night, is for Wilson to be charged.
But many African-Americans here say McCulloch, who is white, can’t be trusted to carry out the investigation impartially, thanks to what they see as a history of indifference to their community’s concerns.
“He has displayed so much bias that he needs to remove himself from the case,” the civil rights activist Martin Luther King III told a small group outside the Greater Grace Church in Ferguson where a Michael Brown rally was held Sunday evening. “That would be a victory for this community.”
Numerous local elected officials, including Rep. Lacy Clay and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, as well as the local NAACP, also have called for McCulloch to hand over the investigation.
McCulloch’s office has released little information about its investigation – its website makes no mention of the shooting that has led to scenes of violence and destruction this week and also hasn’t released the results of the county’s own autopsy.
A McCulloch spokesman did not respond to msnbc’s requests for comment.
Baden implicitly criticized the failure to release the county autopsy, saying that in his long experience, quickly releasing autopsy results helps to calm the family and community, and ease tensions.
McCulloch, who has been in office over two decades, angered many blacks here when he criticized the decision by Gov. Jay Nixon to hand over policing duties in Ferguson to the state Highway Patrol, under the command of Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri state highway patrol, saying the move “denigrate[d] the men and women of the county police department” and “may put a lot of people in danger.” Johnson, who is black, has received widespread praise for his calm and sympathetic handling of the crisis.
“It appears like the county police and the Ferguson police were upset because they put a black man in charge,” said Judy Jones, a St. Louis resident as she stood outside a rally for justice in Ferguson Sunday evening. “And in this country, white people don’t like black people telling them anything. That’s why they have problems with Obama.”
McCulloch’s critics also point to a 2000 case in which two black men were shot and killed by two white police officers in the parking lot of a Jack in the Box fast-food hamburger chain. McCulloch said he agreed with a decision by a grand jury not to press charges, angering many in the black community.
They also say the fact that McCulloch’s father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty by an assailant who was black when McCulloch was a child may make it hard for him to be impartial.
“It almost makes you unable to do that job, when you carry that kind of emotional burden on your back,” said John Gaskin of the St. Louis County NAACP, who expressed compassion for McCulloch having lost his father.
Recent elections helped exacerbate tensions. McCulloch faced a black challenger, Leslie Broadnax, and also supported a white challenger, Steve Stenger, to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, who is black. In a racially charged campaign, both McCulloch and Stenger won.
Broadnax said she ran against McCulloch in part because of what she sees as the racial disparity in the people who are charged with crimes in St. Louis County. “I know we are not the only ones committing crimes in the county,” she said, referring to the black community.