The presentation of evidence to a St. Louis County grand jury was deeply flawed, leading to a wrong decision not to charge a white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, lawyers for the slain man’s family said on Tuesday.
“This process is broken,” said lawyer Benjamin Crump. “The process should be indicted.”
Flanked by Michael Brown’s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., Crump, lawyer Anthony Gray and civil rights activist and television personality the Rev. Al Sharpton sharply criticized St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch for how he presented the case to the grand jury and for how and when he announced the jury's findings Monday night.
The speakers at the news conference pledged more action in the courts and in protests around the country.
“We took a blow last night and some people think it was a fixed fight,” Crump said. “This process was supposed to create clarity, but didn’t it raise more questions?”
Brown and McSpadden had been expected to speak at the news conference, but did not address the media because they were overcome by emotion, Crump said. In the moments after Monday night's announcement, the family condemned the grand jury's decision not to charge Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Brown on Aug. 9.
“Instead of making a lot of noise, we strive to make a difference,” Crump said..
The activists derided the overnight violence that left numerous buildings in Ferguson burned and led to the arrests of dozens of people. But they said they also condemned “the violence of Aug. 9” that left Brown dead. They devoted their harshest criticism for McCulloch and the presentation to the grand jury.
The prosecutor had said early on that he would send all of the evidence, however contradictory, to the grand jury made up of nine white people and three African Americans. The jurors heard more than 70 hours of testimony and other evidence outlined in about 4,800 pages of documents released Monday night.
At his news conference Monday night, McCulloch said that much of the witness testimony from the community was unreliable and that some of it conflicted with the scientific evidence. For example, some witnesses said that Brown had been shot in the back, but autopsies found no such wound. Some witnesses, McCulloch said, changed their stories as the grand-jury proceedings went on for weeks.
Activists especially objected to the handling of Wilson's testimony, which lasted about four hours.
“A first-year law student would have done a better job of cross-examining” Wilson, Crump said, adding that he had looked through the grand jury record. “When was his [Wilson’s] credibility ever challenged?”
“The grand jury is a reflection of the prosecutor,” said another family attorney, Anthony Gray. “If prosecutors presented evidence to indict, they indict.”
“We saw what was presented, but not how it was presented,” Gray said. “The cynicism and sarcasm of some of the questions jump off the page to you.”
The lawyers said they will pursue the case, which they noted was being investigated by federal authorities for possible violations of civil rights law. Sharpton also mentioned that a civil suit was a possibility.
Sharpton also renewed his call for demonstrations around the nation and said that civil rights leaders would meet shortly in Washington to develop other strategies.
The news conference was interrupted when a person whom Sharpton described as a blogger shouted out some questions about Sharpton’s role. A Sharpton aide yelled back.
“It was a problem of not wanting to hear what I want to say,” Sharpton said, trying to minimize the incident. He noted he had been invited, adding, “Who did you think would speak?”