U.S. Not Expected to Fault Officer in Ferguson Case

Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times, January 22, 2015

Justice Department lawyers will recommend that no civil rights charges be brought against the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., after an F.B.I. investigation found no evidence to support charges, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his civil rights chief, Vanita Gupta, will have the final say on whether the Justice Department will close the case against the officer, Darren Wilson. But it would be unusual for them to overrule the prosecutors on the case, who are still working on a legal memo explaining their recommendation.

A decision by the Justice Department would bring an end to the politically charged investigation of Mr. Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The Missouri authorities concluded their investigation into Mr. Brown’s death in November and also recommended against charges.

But a broader Justice Department civil rights investigation into allegations of discriminatory traffic stops and excessive force by the Ferguson Police Department remains open. That investigation could lead to significant changes at the department, which is overwhelmingly white despite serving a city that is mostly black.

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Mr. Holder said that the Justice Department’s investigation into Mr. Brown’s death would be independent from the one conducted by the local authorities. While the F.B.I. and local officials conducted some interviews together and shared evidence, the analysis and decision-making were separate. Mr. Holder resisted calls from local officials to announce his conclusion alongside the county prosecutor last year, in part because he did not want it to appear as if they had reached their decisions together.

Federal investigators interviewed more than 200 people and analyzed cellphone audio and video, the law enforcement officials said. Officer Wilson’s gun, clothing and other evidence were analyzed at the F.B.I.’s laboratory in Quantico, Va. Though the local authorities and Mr. Brown’s family conducted autopsies, Mr. Holder ordered a separate autopsy, which was conducted by pathologists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s office at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the officials said.

The federal investigation did not uncover any facts that differed significantly from the evidence made public by the authorities in Missouri late last year, the law enforcement officials said. To bring federal civil rights charges, the Justice Department would have needed to prove that Officer Wilson had intended to violate Mr. Brown’s rights when he opened fire, and that he had done so willfully–meaning he knew that it was wrong to fire but did so anyway.

The Justice Department plans to release a report explaining its decision, though it is not clear when. {snip}

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It is not clear when the broader civil rights inquiry of the police department, known as a pattern or practice investigation, will be completed. Under Mr. Holder, prosecutors have opened more than 20 such investigations nationwide. The Justice Department recently called for sweeping changes to the Cleveland Police Department and negotiated an independent monitor to oversee the department in Albuquerque.

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