The Washington Post is reporting that the Department of Justice have found little legal basis on which to bring civil rights charges over the August 9 shooting of the black Mike Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson.  The reason:  the actual evidence simply doesn’t support such a case.

Justice Department investigators have all but concluded they do not have a strong enough case to bring civil rights charges against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., law enforcement officials said….

“The evidence at this point does not support civil rights charges against Officer Wilson,” said one person briefed on the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Justice Department officials are loath to acknowledge publicly that their case cannot now meet the high legal threshold for a successful civil rights prosecution. The timing is sensitive: Tensions are high in greater St. Louis as people await the results of a grand jury’s review of the case.

This information is based on interviews with DOJ investigators on condition of anonymity, presumably to avoid punishment by their superiors.  On the record, Brian Fallon, a DOJ spokesman, maintains that the Federal investigation is ongoing, and the Post reporting is based on “idle speculation.”

Having found no particular wrongdoing by Officer Wilson, the DOJ is instead seeking to bring “justice” the the Ferguson police department as a whole.  The DOJ’s investigation includes a comprehensive examination (think, proctologist) of the Ferguson PD’s policing practices.  Eric Holder, the outgoing head of the DOJ, is quoted in the Post article as stating, “It’s pretty clear that the need for wholesale change in that department is appropriate,” although no particular facts are provided in support of this contention.

The Post piece also repetitively notes (complains about?) the fact that a civil rights prosecution of Wilson must meet a high legal bar in order to be successful.  I observe such wailing about “excessive” fundamental civil rights safeguards becoming increasingly widespread among groups demanding their own private versions of “justice.”  In the case of Wilson, protestors have continually demanded “indictment now” and “trial now” without regard for any legal thresholds whatever.

The rule of law was unavailable for comment.

It is notable that the DOJ’s investigation into the Ferguson shooting is being conducted by its Civil Rights Division, which actively helped to organize and facilitate ongoing and tumultuous street protests in the Florida shooting case of George Zimmerman’s self-defense killing of Trayvon Martin.  After many months of local and Federal investigation, and an extravagantly lengthy trial, Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in mere hours of jury deliberations.

When even the Civil Rights Division can’t find sufficient evidence of civil rights violations to warrant charges–which is, by all appearances, it’s primary mission–you know such evidence must be scarce, indeed.

As in the Ferguson case, DOJ investigators speaking on condition of anonymity have long said that civil rights charges against Zimmerman are extremely unlikely.  In an apparent (and perhaps merely theatrical) reversal this week, the DOJ announced it was convening a Zimmerman case Grand Jury to hear witnesses next Wednesday–notably the day after Federal elections likely to profoundly shape the national political landscape.  (See: DOJ Convenes Grand Jury For Zimmerman Civil Rights Case.)

The only known witness to be called is Frank Taaffe, a self-proclaimed “friend” of Zimmerman’s, who two years after being interviewed by the FBI and denying any knowledge of racial motivation by Zimmerman in the shooting of Martin suddenly recalled a phone conversation with Zimmerman shortly after the shooting that leads him to believe Zimmerman was, in fact, racially motivated.  (See: Key Witness for Zimmerman DOJ Grand Jury Changes Story.)

The credibility fairy was unavailable for comment.

Whether the Department of Justice will suddenly backtrack on its leaks that civil rights charges against Darren Wilson are unlikely is, of course, impossible to predict.

Why? Because the political expediency fairy was, sadly, also unavailable for comment.

–-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.