A legal advocacy group is asking a St. Louis County judge to convene a second grand jury to investigate a white police officer’s killing of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., contending prosecutors “fatally compromised” the case last year.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund -- which shares a name similar to the NAACP but is an independent advocacy group -- made the request in a letter to Circuit Judge Maura McShane and also asked her to appoint a special prosecutor.
The letter is just one of three complaints to be lodged this week against St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, whose office handled the unusual, widely scrutinized and months-long grand jury investigation into Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson’s Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, 18.
When McCulloch announced Nov. 24 that the grand jury had declined to indict Wilson, a storm of rioting and protests followed.
McCulloch also released a huge trove of documents and transcripts from the grand jury’s investigation. Those documents have now helped feed a legal backlash against McCulloch, who declined to hand off the case to a special prosecutor after some critics said he was too biased. (McCulloch’s father, a policeman, was killed by a suspect in 1964 during a police chase.)
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s letter came the same day that a grand juror sued McCulloch in federal court for the right to speak publicly about the prosecution’s “muddled” and unusual handling of the case.
Seven St. Louis-area residents also filed a bar complaint against McCulloch with state professional regulators Monday, alleging McCulloch’s office breached ethical rules by presenting incorrect legal standards and questionable testimony.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund echoed many of the residents’ complaints. (You can read the Los Angeles Times’ article on the grand juror’s lawsuit and the citizens’ bar complaint against McCulloch here.)
“Our review of these proceedings has raised grave legal concerns, including knowing presentation of false witness testimony, erroneous instructions on the law, and preferential treatment of Mr. Wilson by the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office,” Sherrilyn Ifill, the group’s president, said in the letter.
A spokesman for McCulloch declined to comment on the lawsuit and the bar complaint, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday on the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s letter.
Brown’s death remains under investigation by federal officials.
Among the concerns raised by the advocacy group were the prosecutors’ presentation of a witness who made racist comments and who may not have been at the scene of the shooting.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund also criticized prosecutors’ initial presentation to grand jurors of an outdated use-of-force law that had been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court nearly three decades ago.
The group also accused prosecutors of not challenging Wilson’s account of the shooting and of tilting the odds in Wilson’s favor by treating his case as special.
“Typically the grand jury will hear a whole case in a matter of maybe 15 minutes, but that’s not the case here,” one prosecutor, Kathi Alizadeh, told the grand jury, according to a transcript cited by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Although the group asked the judge to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the investigation, Missouri law gives wide latitude to county prosecutors, who are elected officials, to handle their own cases unless a judge decides that doing so would be “inconsistent with the duties of his office.”
When McCulloch first came under criticism in August, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declined to ask him to step aside.
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