For weeks, protesters in the mostly black St. Louis suburb of
Ferguson have piled pressure on authorities, demanding that the
officer, Darren Wilson, be charged and Prosecutor Bob McCulloch be
replaced with a special prosecutor.
The prosecutor opted not to press charges and presented the case to
the grand jury because of conflicting testimony from witnesses, his
"It's not even a question about whether there will be unrest, people
have made it very clear. We have a very fragile peace right now. If
people don't feel like they get justice, it will be very hard to
hold these folks back," said St. Louis Alderman Antonio French.
The embattled McCullough, whose office has prosecuted more than 700
murder cases since 1991, has overseen 33 prosecutions of police
officers during his 23-year term but has never pressed charges
against an officer accused of killing a suspect.
His spokesman, Edward Magee, said prosecutors review several police
shootings each year but rarely pursue charges, largely because laws
give police a broad latitude to defend themselves and use deadly
force if they believe they are in imminent danger.
McCulloch's office said there were four cases of police shootings he
has brought to a grand jury. None resulted in criminal charges,
including a much publicized 2000 case of two law enforcement
officers who shot and killed two unarmed black men during a drug
In a process much different from a trial, a grand jury is guided by
the prosecutor, who determines what evidence to present and
instructs members on what charges may apply.
The prosecutor's office is asking for patience as forensics and
autopsy evidence are presented to the grand jury, which is meeting
four to eight hours each Wednesday. Witness testimony is still being
gathered, Magee said.
Two attorneys at the prosecutor's office, Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila
Whirley, are presenting the evidence to the grand jury, Magee said.
Alizadeh, with 26 years on the job, including 22 murder cases, is
leading the presentation.
"People just need to wait," Magee said. "People are still coming
forward and we are still waiting for the investigation to be
In the 33 cases prosecuted by McCulloch's office, police officers
were charged with a range of crimes that included allegations of
rape, assault and murder. In most of those cases, McCulloch's office
leveled charges directly and did not take the cases to a grand jury.
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Charges are brought directly when there is a "clear-cut probable
cause," Magee said. adding that there is no such clarity in the
Accounts of the altercation between Wilson and Brown differ. Some
witnesses have said Brown posed no threat to the officer and had his
hands raised in surrender when he was shot, while friends of the
officer have said Brown injured Wilson before the shooting. An
autopsy showed the teenager was shot at least six times, including
twice in the head.
In an unusual provision, the prosecutor's office has pledged that
all the evidence at some point will be turned over to the public to
help address questions about the case, even if no charges are
brought, Magee said.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said officials have been meeting to
prepare contingency plans in case new protests erupt if charges are
"It is being planned for. I don't know where it will explode. There
will be civil unrest far beyond Ferguson," Knowles said in an
interview with Reuters. "The St. Louis region is preparing for
Protests have been persistent but less violent in recent weeks -
until Wednesday, when about three dozen protesters were arrested
after demonstrators tried to block a U.S. highway through St. Louis
and clashed with police.
The night before, many residents at a packed Ferguson city council
meeting told city leaders there would be no peace until Wilson, who
protesters called the 'killer cop' - is arrested and jailed.
(Editing by David Bailey and Gunna Dickson)
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