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Lowery reports: "Protesters in Missouri tried to shut down Interstate 70 on Wednesday, an act of civil disobedience aimed at forcing the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown."

Larry Rice is arrested by a St. Louis County Police officer during a demonstration on Hanley Road at Interstate 70 in St. Louis County on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. (photo: David Carson/post-dispatch)
Larry Rice is arrested by a St. Louis County Police officer during a demonstration on Hanley Road at Interstate 70 in St. Louis County on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. (photo: David Carson/post-dispatch)

35 Arrested in Ferguson as Calls Continue for McCulloch to Step Down

By Wesley Lowery, The Washington Post

11 September 14


rotesters in Missouri tried to shut down Interstate 70 on Wednesday, an act of civil disobedience aimed at forcing the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The protest march — which police physically prevented from entering the freeway — is the latest flash point in what has been a near-nonstop call from leaders of Ferguson’s black community for St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch, who they allege has a history of protecting police officers, to be removed from the case. More than 115,000 people nationwide have signed an online petition demanding his removal.

But Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has refused calls for him to ask that McCulloch step aside. And Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said in an interview on MSNBC last month that she has known McCulloch for 30 years and that, if she were governor, she would not remove him from the case.

“I believe that Bob McCulloch will be fair,” she said. “You have to understand the only allegation against this prosecutor is he can’t be fair. Well what does that say to the people of this county? We have a process in this country where people are elected. You don’t come along and just remove someone from that job unless it is under the powers of an emergency.”

But his continued role in investigating whether Officer Darren Wilson used improper force when he fatally shot Brown last month has revived decades-old complaints about him from some segments of Greater St. Louis’s black community.

“The decision to appoint a special prosecutor in this case is a moral decision, not a political one,” local activist Zaki Baruti declared in announcing the protest.

Baruti, who has previously clashed with McCulloch and other local prosecutors and police departments over civilian shootings, has been joined by several other community leaders and local elected officials in insisting that McCulloch be removed. Critics note that McCulloch has deep family ties to local police — several of his immediate family members are current or former police officers — and that his father was an officer who was killed in a shootout with a black suspect in 1964.

But more troublesome in the eyes of his detractors is the perception that McCulloch, who is white, has a reputation for protecting police officers, especially in racially charged cases­.

There have been at least four instances in which McCulloch presented evidence to a grand jury regarding a fatal police shooting, according to a review conducted by The Washington Post of archived local news media coverage. In none of those cases was the officer indicted. The Post requested a list of cases­ in which the county prosecutor’s office has pursued charges against a member of law enforcement. In response, the office noted that it does not have any database that lists cases­ by defendant occupation, but it provided a list of 33 prior or pending cases­ that was compiled from memory by prosecutors, investigators and victim service personnel in the office since McCulloch became county prosecutor in 1991.

The list did not include any cases in which McCulloch’s office has pursued charges against a white officer for using inappropriate force against a black victim. But when The Post asked specifically for examples, McCulloch’s office cited two cases: a white male police officer who was charged after a video showed him assaulting an African American prisoner and a white male police lieutenant who was charged and found guilty of slapping an African American woman while on a disturbance call.

The office could not provide a case number or the officer’s name in the first case; The Post was able to confirm the second case.

“Our office does not make any decisions based on the occupation or race of either the victim or defendant,” Edward R. Magee, McCulloch’s executive assistant, said in a statement. “All cases are reviewed and charging decisions are made based on the facts known at the time and supported by adequate probable cause.”

McCulloch’s office has won the convictions of several police officers. Those included first-degree murder for an officer who killed his wife, vehicular manslaughter for an officer who killed four people while driving drunk and second-degree assault for an officer who accidently shot another officer in the face during a sex game. His office has also won convictions against numerous officers, white and black, in child molestation and sexual assault cases.

“He’s very fair and he’s honest, and he’s done nothing in this case that would support a position that he should be removed,” said Art Margulis, a veteran criminal defense lawyer in Greater St. Louis and friend of McCulloch’s. “I have tried cases against him, I’ve tried many cases against his office, and they’ve beaten me plenty. I have always felt that I’ve been treated fairly.”

At least three black officers are among those who McCulloch’s office has not prosecuted in the fatal shooting of civilians, in some cases because grand juries declined to indict.

Many Ferguson residents specifically cite the July 2000 “Jack in the Box shooting” – which prompted protests and spawned outrage toward McCulloch for not securing indictments of two white officers who fatally shot two unarmed black men.

“People haven’t forgotten,” said Patricia Bynes, Democratic committeewoman of Ferguson Township. “It was such a widely publicized case, and people feel like the police and prosecutors used tricks of manipulation, not telling the truth and not being openly honest about things.”

The officers in that case, undercover drug agents, shot Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley, on June 12, 2000, in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in the St. Louis suburb of Berkeley. A county grand jury found insufficient evidence to indict the officers, who fired more than 20 times into the vehicle in which the men were sitting.

“There is the perception that they can shoot us, they can beat us, we can even have this stuff on video and the police officer still gets off,” Bynes said. “There is the idea that police officers are untouchable.”

At the time, McCulloch said he agreed with the grand jury’s decision, refused calls from community leaders to release video of the shooting or name the officers, and later in a news conference described the shooting victims as “bums.” In a later interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he said that they and others like them “have spread destruction in the community.” In the years since, that quote has been seized on by many of McCulloch’s detractors.

“In retrospect, Mr. McCulloch believes Murray and Beasley should have been described as ‘convicted felons’ rather than ‘bums,’ as that would have been a more accurate description,” Magee told The Post this week.

Wednesday’s attempt to shut down the freeway is a tactic that community leaders tried in 2000 with the hope of forcing an indictment of the officers involved in the Jack in the Box case.

At the time, the black community also carried out an economic boycott that ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Now, activists say they will continue civil disobedience until McCulloch is removed from the Brown case.

“It is going to cause people some discomfort, it is going to cause inconvenience to people,” Eric Vickers of the Justice for Michael Brown Coalition said in a news conference Monday. “That is a small price to pay to change the conditions of African American youth, and it’s a very small price to pay to bring justice to Michael Brown.”

McCulloch, who has declined interview requests from The Post, has resisted all calls for him to step aside and has insisted that he will conduct fair proceedings.

“I have absolutely no intention of walking away from the duties and responsibilities entrusted to me by the people in this community,” McCulloch, 63, told St. Louis radio station KTRS last month. “I have done it for 24 years, and I’ve done, if I do say so myself, a very good job.”

Meanwhile, his office has begun presenting evidence to the grand jury, which legal experts say makes it even more unlikely that he would be replaced. He is not personally presenting evidence to the jury, but acting in a supervisory role over two attorneys from his office — Sheila Whirley and Kathi Alizadeh.

Whirley has been with the office since 2001 and is the highest-ranking African American among the five black attorneys in the 57-member office. Alizadeh, who is white, has been with the office since 1988 and supervises the sex crimes unit. your social media marketing partner
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