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Ferguson: Down the Rabbit Hole

How lies, obfuscation, and misleading information are making a bad situation in Ferguson worse
Crime • Views: 24,031

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson can’t get out of his own way. In his rush to paint Mike Brown as a strong arm robber, he’s released video that the Department of Justice considered incendiary and unrelated to the FOIA requests made by the press and other interested parties. In fact, the video appears to be only a portion of the overall incident in Ferguson Market and Liquor.

There is a significantly longer video that shows that there was much more involved here. And none of it rises to the level of a strong arm robbery. Rather, this is at worst shoplifting or petit larceny given that the amount that was allegedly taken was less than $50.

The tweet shows a longer video, but the store representatives confirmed that although a theft occurred, they chose not to pursue a criminal report (it was a customer in the store who called police - not the store employee).

The store owner wasn’t going ahead with charges, but that’s not dispositive. He might fear repercussions against him and his business (which has already been targeted by looters) and instead was likely to treat it as a shrinkage loss, rather than pursue a police investigation.

It’s much more dispositive that the Ferguson Police aren’t charging Dorian Johnson with any crimes, even though he was with Brown and appears to have taken some of the tobacco products (cigarellos) given to him by Brown on their way out of the store.

Yet, all of the video does nothing to shed light on why Mike Brown was approached by Officer Darren Wilson. That’s according to Chief Jackson himself. Chief Jackson has repeatedly stated that the only reason that Wilson approached Brown and Johnson was because they were walking in the street. It had nothing to do with the incident in the store.

Chief Jackson allowed his Department to issue a video that had only a tenuous relationship to the incident leading to Brown’s death, all while claiming that is was not related. Highway Patrol Chief Ron Johnson and the Department of Justice both thought as much - that this was unrelated to the events (and Chief Johnson was blind-sided by the release, learning of it only after the media did). Both knew and understood that the release of the video would only cause even more tensions and fingers pointed at a Department intent to cast aspersions on the man whom Officer Wilson killed.

It’s enough to make your head spin.

And yet, this is just the beginning.

This is a Department that is more interested in protecting itself than protecting the public or cleaning up its act. This is a Department that has no problem allowing the officer who shot and killed Brown to leave town. Far from attempting to gather all the pertinent information and interview all the relevant witnesses, the county prosecutors and the Ferguson PD and county police have appeared to engage in a haphazard approach to gathering the critical information. That’s even though criminal justice experts would caution law enforcement agencies to interview witnesses as quickly as possible so as to get the accounts down in writing. It’s as though the agencies involved at the local level are trying to put barriers up to a proper investigation.

This is a Department that had no problem in increasing tensions by withholding key information and details relating to the Brown investigation. Some of the information is justifiably withheld under Missouri Rev. Stat. 610.100. However, they’re using the shield as a club to thwart any look at the actions by the Department.

It’s no wonder that so many people are petitioning for a special prosecutor to handle the case instead of the county prosecutor, who has already indicated how he didn’t like how Gov. Jay Nixon put the highway patrol in charge of the security situation because the county police were using such heavy handed techniques. The prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, has long and deep ties with the police departments, and appears to put those ties ahead of seeing justice done. For instance:

In 2001, two undercover drug officers from Dellwood shot and killed two men on the parking lot of a Jack in the Box in north St. Louis County. The officers said the suspects, who had prior felony convictions for drug and assault offenses, tried to escape arrest and then drove toward the officers.

A subsequent federal investigation showed that the men were unarmed and that their car had not moved forward when the officers fired 21 shots and killed the suspects, Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley. The probe, however, also concluded that because the officers feared for their safety, the shootings were justified.

McCulloch didn’t prosecute the officers. He specifically drew the ire of defense lawyers and protesters, who had been holding demonstrations and threatened to block Highway 40,when he said of Murray and Beasley, “These guys were bums.”

This is just part of the reason why the Department of Justice is carrying out its own investigations. It’s why they’re going ahead with their own autopsy (and that appears to be in addition to the family calling in noted pathologist Dr. Michael Baden to carry out one as well).

No one who is an impartial third party is willing to trust anything coming out of the Ferguson PD and St. Louis County police, let alone the county prosecutor. That’s quite telling.

Here’s the thing though. There are multiple events from Mike Brown being shot through today that indicate that the local police forces operating in Ferguson have engaged in excessive force. There’s a way to reduce the incidence, and in the process save taxpayers and the community billions of dollars a year in costs. It involves requiring all officers on patrol to wear cameras. This not only protects the public, but the officers from baseless claims.

Over the last decade, claims against cities and counties across the country stemming from police incidents amounted to $22 billion. The special counsel to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recently reported that between January 2013 and April 2014, 132 cases of excessive force against the department were closed by settlements or court verdicts, totaling $12,175,000. The largest payout in fiscal 2012-2013 was a jury award of $6 million, settled by the County for $3.9 million. The plaintiff in that case claimed that two deputies escalated a traffic stop into violence, pepper-spraying him, punching him in the head, kneeing him in the face, and slamming his head into the pavement. And don’t forget the attorneys’ fees that are often a key driver in the decision of whether or not to settle or proceed to litigation. In Los Angeles County, for every dollar spent on a payout in fiscal 2012, another dollar was spent on the lawyers, amounting to $43 million. Communities policed by officers wearing BWCs will see a dramatic decrease in litigation and the costs associated with it.

I’ve noted this before - it gives law enforcement the ability to learn from events on the ground - what to do and what not to do. And the costs are minimal compared to the gear that law enforcement agencies get handed down to them from the federal government (all the armored vehicles, helicopters, sniper gear, body armor, etc., which is ostensibly for protecting communities from a terrorism threat or mass casualty event and could potentially serve a legitimate purpose has instead been used to bloat budgets and prop up department requests for even more funds).

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