CNN reports that the Department of Justice continues to express frustration with the refusal of local Ferguson officials to hide from the Grand Jury and the public generally truthful information about the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown.  These same frustrations have been repeatedly echoed by the most hardcore of the Ferguson protestors, at increasing volume as they see the prospects for an indictment of officer Wilson rapidly fading.

County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch has asked federal officials to coordinate on the timing of the announcement of the local Grand Jury outcome, in the interests of minimizing the potential for more rioting, looting, and arson.  It is widely expected that the local Grand Jury will decline to indict Wilson, because of a profound lack of evidence of criminal conduct.

CNN’s report shows that DOJ officials have declined to do so, arguing that it would “undermine their argument that the federal investigation is independent.”  Of course, an official closure of the DOJ investigation would also not allow the Department to follow the strategy they have in the Zimmerman case of dragging  out their investigation for years.  This strategy pursued in the Zimmerman case allows for such politically expedient announcements, days before a major election, as the sudden convening of a Zimmerman Grand Jury based upon evidence of highly questionable credibility.

The CNN article notes that the state and federal investigations are based upon separate and distinct statutes, and thus are not entirely identical.  Left unsaid is the equally obvious point that the state and federal investigations serve different political masters.

The federal authorities and Ferguson protestors have strongly criticized state officials for providing the local Grand Jury with all of the evidence available regarding the Ferguson shooting, arguing that the Grand Jury should instead be denied access to evidence providing legal justification for Brown’s killing.  In addition, the federal investigation is being run by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, which actively organized and supported ongoing and tumultuous street protests in the case of the George Zimmerman shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin. (Zimmerman was ultimately acquitted of all criminal charges.)

All of this is consistent with the view that the local authorities are more interested in seeking, and broadly sharing, the truth of the Ferguson events than are federal authorities whose actions, current and past, seem intended to exacerbate racial tension and limit the sharing of truthful information.

In addition, although state and Federal authorities are considering different legal statutes, both ultimately will rely on the same body of evidence–and to date DOJ investigators have participated in every witness interview and have been provided access to every piece of evidence available.  It would seem that grounds for Federal civil rights charges exist, or not, and thus no reason to delay the findings of the federal investigation.

Some of the Justice Department complaints around the Ferguson investigation seem little more than petulant.  They have vociferously complained about the leaks by local officials of truthful information about the case, including the official autopsy report that gutted protestor’s claims that Wilson had shot a fleeing Mike Brown in the back and that Brown had been shot while his hands were raised in surrender.

Indeed, the autopsy report instead found a contact gun shot wound to Brown’s right hand, confirming that Brown had his hand on Wilson’s gun when at least one of the rounds were fired.  This is consistent with Wilson’s claim throughout that Brown attempted to seize the officer’s pistol.

In a similar vein, DOJ investigators wish to deny public access to the evidence presented to the local Grand Jury, contrary to the desires of local authorities to make all this evidence publicly available.  Instead, the DOJ wishes to deny access to this evidence until they have completed their own investigation–which, as seen in the Zimmerman case, can take years (or, at least, until January 2017).

Things that make you go, “hmmmmm…”

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog (autographed copies available) and Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle). He also holds Law of Self Defense Seminars around the country, and provides free online self-defense law video lectures at the Law of Self Defense Institute and podcasts through iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere.