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.
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.
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)