Regarding Bob McCulloch, the Ferguson Prosecution, and the “Jack in the Box” Case

Robert McCulloch St. Louis County Prosecutor

Robert McCulloch
St. Louis County Prosecutor

By Elaine Magliaro

Alan Pyke (ThinkProgress) suggests that if you want to have a better understanding of Bob McCulloch and his prosecution in the case of the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson,  Missouri, you should learn more about the 2000 “Jack in the Box” case.

Pyke:

Legal experts have accused Ferguson, MO prosecutor Robert McCulloch of mishandling the grand jury process that failed to yield charges in the August police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. One of the grand jurors in that case has flagged many of those errors in a new lawsuit against McCulloch. The anonymous juror’s suit also cites another case from nearly 15 years ago which suggests McCulloch has a history of demonizing the victims of police shooting, and skewing the evidence in favor of the police.

While the suit doesn’t delve into the details of the 2000 case, known locally as the Jack in the Box shooting, investigations by federal officials and St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters reveal familiar-sounding details about McCulloch’s strange use of the grand jury process and inflammatory public statements following the ultimate exoneration of police.

Pyke said that in June of 2000, local law enforcement and federal DEA officers “conducted a joint drug sting in the parking lot of a busy fast food restaurant” in Berkeley, Missouri. The reported target of the sting was a “small-time drug dealer” named Ronald Murray. Pyke reported that in a matter of seconds, “two officers had fired 21 shots through the target’s windshield,” killing Murray and his passenger Earl Beasley, a personal friend. Beasley had not been involved in the investigation at all. According to Pyke, the officers who killed the two men in the car testified that they shot them because the suspect’s vehicle “moved forward toward them, something that was later proven false by physical evidence and expert testimony.”

Michael Daly (The Daily Beast) said that early reports of the Jack in the Box case suggested that the shooting victims’ vehicle “moved toward” the two officers, “causing them to fear being pinned against another car.” Daly reported that investigators subsequently determined “that the car occupied by the two men had not in fact begun to move in their direction when the fatal shots were fired.” Daly said that the officers “insisted they were in fear for their lives nonetheless, essentially arguing that the car was itself a deadly weapon pointed their way.”

NOTE: The federal investigation also showed that both of the shooting victims were unarmed.

Pyke said that news reports from that time reveal that the facts of the Jack in the Box case  “took on a particular slant” in the hands of Bob McCulloch. He said that McCulloch “seriously misrepresented the key facts of the day and the background of one of the two victims” in “both the private grand jury setting and later public statements.”

Lizz Brown (St. Louis American) said that despite protests and requests for transparency, “McCulloch and every other high-ranking county official declined to attend a news conference on the shooting.” Instead of a news conference, McCulloch’s office decided to issue a press release stating that the chief of police was “not entertaining interviews.” Brown reported that McCulloch “initially refused to release the names of the officers involved, and he expressed no sympathy or concern about the ‘suspects.’” She added that it was McCulloch’s use of the word “suspects” to describe both Murray and Beasley that caused concern in the African-American community “because Beasley, father of three and manager at an auto repair shop, was an innocent bystander.” She noted that McCulloch’s office appeared to “be very comfortable with hurling the slanderous and inaccurate term ‘suspect’ at Beasley.”

Shaun King (Daily Kos) said that even though the victims’ car wasn’t actually used as a weapon, police claimed that it “could have been.” According to King, the officers who killed Murray and Beasley “were never indicted and soon returned to their jobs.”

Pyne provided what he called “four key takeaways” about McCulloch’s conduct in the 2000 Jack in the Box case in his ThinkProgress article:

1. McCulloch lied to the public about how witnesses testified to the key detail of the day.

2. McCulloch steered the grand jury toward viewing the dead men as hardened criminals, and later referred to them publicly as “bums.”

3. McCulloch failed to secure expert testimony to allow grand jurors to resolve the conflicting stories officers testified to in private.

4. McCulloch jumped in to stop a cop mid-testimony when he started to compare the incident to “a notorious police shooting of an unarmed man in New York.”

Click here to read the full text of Alan Pyke’s article If You Want To Understand The Ferguson Prosecution, You Should Know About The Jack In The Box Case.

SOURCES

If You Want To Understand The Ferguson Prosecution, You Should Know About The Jack In The Box Case (ThinkProgress)

Bob McCulloch and the other fire raging in North County (The St. Louis American)

Missouri Cops’ License to Kill (The Daily Beast)

St. Louis prosecutor has faced controversy for decades (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Is it legal for the police to shoot an unarmed, surrendered citizen? (Daily Kos)

 

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11 Responses to Regarding Bob McCulloch, the Ferguson Prosecution, and the “Jack in the Box” Case

  1. bigfatmike says:

    It is ironic that responsible criticism and a demand for rigorous investigation is labeled as an unfair attack by the mob on the officer in Ferguson.

    Yet the DA in in this earlier case and the police chief in Ferguson specifically attacked the character of those involved in those incidents.

    It both those situations the character of those shot have nothing to do with the shooting. The nature and legality of actions by the officers depend solely on what took place in the fleeting moments immediately before the shots were fired.

  2. buckaroo says:

    Perhaps this information should or has been made available to the Governor and the Representative of the district involved. This, I would think, says more about politicians than the democratic process which we all, I guess, accept with its many failings

  3. bettykath says:

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/black-killed-white-officer-horror-east-harlem-off-duty-rookie-shot-pursuing-suspect-article-1.372647

    Rookie was running after someone breaking into a car, his back to the officer.
    ————-
    http://thefreethoughtproject.com/undercover-albuquerque-police-officer-shot-fellow-cop/

    during $60 meth sting.
    ————–
    Cops killing each other rather then unarmed civilians is a move in the right direction. Maybe by killing their own they’ll figure out that killing rather than checking out and diffusing the situation isn’t the way to go.

    • bigfatmike says:

      @bettykath: good eye, thanks for the cites. Some how I missed these two.

      I don’t want anyone to be shot or killed.

      But these two incidents certainly add to the perception that officers in many situations are too quick to resort to deadly force.

      I can’t wait to see the reports of LE investigations of these incidents.

      As one of the news articles suggests, it will be very interesting to see how they work their way around to the claim that the officer used lethal force because he reasonably feared for his life.

  4. Elaine M. says:

    Why Ferguson is so mad at prosecutor Bob McCulloch
    The lawyer’s rambling remarks on Monday night aren’t the real problem. It’s his controversial past.
    11/25/14
    http://news.yahoo.com/how-prosecutor-bob-mcculloch-s-controversial-past-is-making-matters-worse-in-ferguson-212622087.html

    Excerpt:
    But in truth, the problem runs deeper than McCulloch’s rambling remarks. The real problem is that everyone who’s been paying attention to Ferguson over the last few months was primed to distrust him long before Monday night.

    For decades McColluch has been viewed suspiciously by many in his own community. They regard him as having a strong prosecutorial bias in favor of law enforcement and an unusually strong prejudice against its accusers….

    But it was a pair of later cases that convinced locals McCulloch’s sympathies lay with government and law enforcement officials and not with their alleged victims.

    In 1997, an employee of the St. Louis County Economic Council named Russ Signorino contacted the FBI to report what he said was improper behavior by a member of the county executive’s cabinet. He also sent reporters an anonymous fax from a Kinko’s in Creve Coeur, Mo. Claiming that the fax contained a threat, McCulloch gave a grand jury subpoena to the county police, who then used it to obtain security footage from Kinko’s showing that Signorino had sent the message.

    The only hitch? McCulloch never told the grand jury what he was doing, and he later admitted that Signorino had never issued a threat or committed a crime. No matter: Signorino was forced to resign anyway. According to the Post-Dispatch, McCulloch denied “that he had abused the grand jury process to identify a whistleblower who was acting lawfully.”

    In 2001, McCulloch convened another grand jury after a pair of undercover drug officers shot and killed two men, a suspect and his passenger, outside a Jack in the Box in Berkeley, Mo. The officers told the jurors that they had fired only after the suspect tried to run them over with his car, and in his public statements about the secret proceedings, McCulloch himself repeatedly insisted that “every witness” had corroborated the officers’ version of events.

    But a subsequent report by the Post-Dispatch revealed that McCulloch had lied. Only three of the 13 detectives who testified said the suspect’s car had moved forward. Two of them were the shooters themselves; the third was “a detective who McCulloch later said he considered charging with perjury because his account was so at odds with the facts.” According to the grand jury tapes, “four other detectives testified that they never saw the suspect’s car travel toward the officers.” A collision expert working for the Justice Department also determined that the suspect’s car had remained in reverse throughout the incident. But McCulloch never brought any of this evidence before the grand jury — and, as a result, the jurors determined that the officers were right to fear for their safety. The case didn’t go to trial.

  5. bettykath says:

    bfm, You’re right, of course, that any killing is not good. Until they reach that determination, I just don’t want the cops killing the unarmed and non-threatening.

  6. Elaine M. says:

    It’s not over in Ferguson: 3 formidable legal moves against prosecutor Bob McCulloch
    http://nakedlaw.avvo.com/lisa-bloom/not-over-in-ferguson-3-formidable-legal-moves-against-prosecutor-bob-mcculloch.html

    Excerpt:
    #2 The NAACP asks Missouri judge to investigate misconduct

    Second, the venerated NAACP Legal Defense Fund has written a formal letter to Missouri Judge Maura McShane, asking her to set aside the grand jury decision based on prosecutorial misconduct. The grounds:

    State prosecuting attorneys, including McCulloch, knowingly put on a pro-Wilson witness who presented false testimony (and who has a history of overt racism)

    Prosecutors presented incorrect and confused statements of the law in the case

    Prosecutors provided favorable treatment to Wilson

    Notice that these grievances mirror those of the grand juror above. The NAACP seeks the appointment of a special prosecutor, “or other means” to achieve justice.

    In my view, the NAACP presents strong legal grounds for a new hearing, and if they get it, this will be the most significant game-changing outcome. As an attorney I am well aware of the ethical rule that we cannot knowingly put on false testimony. It’s shocking that they did so here, and that Mr. McCulloch has admitted it. The desire to be finished with this high profile case should not trump the family’s right to a fair proceeding as they seek fairness and justice for the killing of their son.

  7. Elaine M. says:

    “Not the way we do democracy!” Why is a Ferguson grand juror being silenced?
    Executive director of Missouri ACLU tells Salon why it’s supporting “Grand Juror Doe’s” fight to speak
    http://www.salon.com/2015/01/15/not_the_way_we_do_democracy_why_is_a_ferguson_grand_juror_being_silenced/

    Excerpt:
    Just when America thought that the story of the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson — which divided the country along race and economic lines like no high-profile court case since perhaps the trial of O.J. Simpson — had reached a controversial but final end, the American system of checks and balances, and one still-anonymous member of the grand jury that decided Wilson’s fate, has pulled it back in.

    After the weeks of discussion, outrage and even occasional violence that followed the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, not to indict Wilson, it was announced in early January that one of the grand jurors (known, for now, as Grand Juror Doe), with representation from the Missouri branch of the ACLU, was suing in order to be allowed to speak freely about his experience — and the ways in which, he claims, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch had led the public astray in his descriptions of the process.

    Recently, Salon spoke over the phone with Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of the Missouri ACLU, in order to better understand the suit, as well as why the ACLU considered it necessary for the preservation of American citizens’ constitutional civil liberties. Our conversation is below and has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

    Can you tell me about the lawsuit recently filed? What’s it about and what does it seek to have done?

    The ACLU Missouri filed a litigation on behalf of “Grand Juror Doe.” Grand Juror Doe was one of the jurors … in the review of the evidence relating to the shooting by former officer Darren Wilson of Michael Brown in August of last year.

    When looking at the announcement of the grand jury decision in November, Grand Juror Doe noted inaccuracies and representations that were incomplete by prosecutor McCulloch. Grand Juror Doe believes in the grand jury process and the legal process. He is presently bound by the secrecy mandate that is put on all grand jurors. However, Grand Juror Doe noted that prosecutor McCulloch made many statements in the press conference about the process that left viewers with an incorrect perception of the grand jury process.

    In addition, currently, in our state capital, in Jefferson, Missouri, our legislators are looking at a number of bills relating to the Michael Brown shooting and its aftermath. (For example, should there be grand juries? Are they the best vehicle to deal with allegations of police misconduct? How do we deal with issues of racial profiling and racial inequities?) With respect to these issues and to the public conversation that is happening here in St. Louis, Missouri — and in fact across the country — Grand Juror Doe believes that we, as Americans, and certainly the press, and most importantly our elected officials, could be better informed about the actual conduct of the grand jury … if they were provided complete and accurate information.

    Currently, the only information available to the public, the press, and legislators is one particular view point, that of the government, through prosecutor McCulloch. Grand Juror Doe believes that’s not proper. The ACLU concurs, because in our … democracy, the First Amendment says we don’t allow the government to dictate the form and content of public policy debates; that is improper. That is viewpoint discrimination and it’s not the way we do robust democracy…

    We’ve heard that the way prosecutor McCulloch chose to run the grand jury was unusual. Is it also the case that the number of public comments he’s made about the case has been abnormal?

    I think it’s fair to say that most legal observers do not recall an instance where such a significant amount of information has been released, discussed and characterized about a grand jury proceeding [by the government].

    And that raises another point: When the ACLU brings litigation, we often bring what’s called a “facial challenge.” In other words, it’s unconstitutional to deny a group of individuals to the right to vote, or it’s unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples recognition of their legal marriages. Those are general facial challenges saying, here is a broad constitutional challenge.

    This case is called an “as applied” [challenge]. We’re not saying it’s always unconstitutional for there to be grand jury secrecy; what we’re saying is that, in this particular case, with these facts and circumstances, we believe the law argues in favor of lifting the lifetime gag.

    Let me be a little more specific: One reason for grand jury secrecy is, if there’s not an indictment, you want to protect the reputation of the individual who’s being investigated. In this case, there is no need for that secrecy. Everybody knows that the individual who was under investigation was former officer Darren Wilson … There is a U.S. Supreme Court Case from 1990 … that says secrecy of the grand jury is not a hard and fast rule. It is not absolute. There are reasons for secrecy and the court needs to look at them, why they’re there. Are they necessary? Are they being met against and weight against that other interest?

    We believe — again, in this case, under these facts and circumstances — those greater necessary interests for lifting the gag order, for not having secrecy, outweigh any of the need for secrecy.

  8. blouise says:

    Makes sense to me.

  9. Bob Stone says:

    Should There Be New Ferguson Grand Jury? Can There Be?

    By William Freivogel

    The NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s request for a St. Louis County judge to consider a new grand jury and special prosecutor in the death of Michael Brown calls for an action that is without precedent.

    No Missouri court has appointed a special prosecutor and empaneled a second grand jury over the objection of the local prosecutor whose first grand jury did not indict, legal experts say. Nor does there appear to be a precedent anywhere else in the country.

    ….

    “Have I seen a case like this. On all fours? No,” she said in a telephone interview. “But I tell students you always have to revisit the law and come up with new ways of anticipating new situations.”

    Even if McShane were disposed to order a new grand jury – and the betting is she is not – it is unclear whether she has authority to take the action. In the past, prosecutors have been removed by judges only if they had conflicts of interest or were witnesses themselves. (More on that later.)

    Stephen Higgins, a former U.S. attorney and partner at Thompson Coburn, is skeptical of the group’s request.

    “I’m fascinated that people have constructed a narrative here that is getting so far from reality it is stunning,” he said in an interview. “I can’t imagine doing a new grand jury unless there is new evidence that is persuasive and material. If there were a video or a confession or a tweet or a comment by Wilson to a friend that amounted to a confession, that would be a material fact that could trigger a new grand jury.”

    Nothing of that kind is alleged by McCulloch’s critics, he said.

    David Rosen, who prosecuted police as a former federal prosecutor, agreed that strong evidence relevant to guilt would be needed before there could be a second grand jury.

    “Overturning a grand jury decision is something that courts are very loathe to do because the courts didn’t actually see the witnesses, they didn’t get a chance to judge the credibility of the witnesses, they didn’t know what went into the decision-making,” he said in an interview.

    (cont.)

    http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/should-there-be-new-ferguson-grand-jury-can-there-be

  10. Bob Kauten says:

    “Have I seen a case like this. On all fours? No”
    Have you seen a case like this, hanging from a trapeze?
    Perspiring minds want to know!

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