Friday, 28 November 2014

Investigation of Darren Wilson's shooting of Michael Brown

At one point during the Darren Wilson proceedings I was assured that I'd become convinced of Wilson's innocence as I learned more of the facts. Instead, the proceedings and emerging facts have raised all kinds of questions about fairness and legality of the investigation into Wilson's shooting of  Michael Brown. Here are a few of the issues:
  • The handling of evidence immediately after the incident -- Wilson washed blood from his hands and packaged his own evidence. No measurements were taken at the scene. (link)
  • There was a failure to record interviews with Wilson (link)
  • During the grand jury, when they were allegedly showing the evidence that a crime had been committed, prosecutors failed to cross examine Wilson despite obvious tensions in his stories or questionable claims that he had made (link (see end of article), link 2). These inconsistencies included his claims that he was near death or being fully incapacitated after two punches while the hospital gave him a clean bill of health.  Wilson also used dehumanizing, and arguably racist, language in describing Brown, all without any sort of response or objection or concern from the alleged prosecutors. (link
  • Lawyers were far more aggressive about chasing down prima facie tensions from witnesses presenting testimony damaging to Wilson, acting as Wilson's defense team rather than prosecutors (link, NY Times link, Vox link)
  • An assistant DA distributed a copy of an obsolete and unconstitutional statute that indicated that police officers were justified in using any necessary force in preventing a suspect from fleeing during an arrest. (link (video)) This obsolete discarded law indicated that Wilson was justified in shooting Brown simply for attempting to flee. Of course, this wasn't true, but during Wilson's testimony the grand jury had reason to believe it was true and it's not clear to what extent that misunderstanding was cleared up.
  • McCulloch, the prosecutor, abused the grand jury process. It was questionable whether a grand jury was the right avenue by which to pursue an indictment in this case, but worse than that, McCulloch seems to have been using the grand jury process not to establish whether there was reason to move forward with a trial but rather as an ill-suited process to establish Wilson's innocence. (link, Vox link) Note that grand juries almost never fail to indict when asked to do so by a prosecutor. (link) That they did so in this case may well have had more to do with a lack of clear set of options from the prosecutor and a deliberate (and inappropriate) attempt to provide exculpatory evidence. Note that McCulloch has a history of not prosecuting police officers involved in shootings despite many opportunities to do so. (link)
  • Witnesses were nearly unanimous in their assertion that Brown's hands were up when he was shot (link) and yet the grand jury seems to have embraced Wilson's claim that they were not.
  • That we've been consistently misled about Brown's distance from the police SUV when he died. (link) This matters because the (untrue but oft repeated) claim that Brown was only 35 feet from Wilson's SUV rather than 150 would be far more plausible in light of the claim that Brown was in some angry rage ready to attack. If he had run that far it seems more like he was attempting to flee and turning only to give up.
  • Oh, and now it turns out that McCulloch intentionally allowed witnesses to testify even when he knew they were lying in violation of professional ethics and state law and, arguably, of suborning perjury. (link) (update added 2014/12/19)

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