Objectivity of prosecutor in Missouri shooting of Michael Brown is questioned

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley on Friday said he is leading an effort to remove the county prosecutor from investigating the Michael Brown case because he thinks the prosecutor’s personal experiences and recent statements have tainted his ability to act objectively.

Brown, a black 18-year-old, was fatally shot by Officer Darren Wilson last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. Wilson is white.

Dooley’s spokeswoman, Pat Washington, said there have been long-standing concerns among many black leaders in the community regarding County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s ability to handle such cases because his father was killed in the line of duty when McCulloch was 12 years old. The man who shot his father was black.

Most recently, she said, Dooley feels McCulloch crossed a line when he publicly criticized a decision this week by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to bring in the State Highway Patrol to lead efforts to quell the violent street protests that erupted after the shooting of Brown.

“He injected himself in a matter in a way that further exacerbates the community distrust of him,” Washington said. “Rather than stay focused on the investigation, the prosecuting attorney decided to wade over into a whole other area and challenge the governor. He inflamed the community, which already distrusts him.”

Washington said Dooley had called the state attorney general’s office to determine how a special prosecutor could be appointed in place of McCulloch and was told there was a petition process for doing so, which he is looking into. Dooley was planning to meet Friday night with several local and state elected officials who Washington said have voiced similar concerns about McCulloch, but she declined to identify who would be at the private meeting.

Ed Magee, a McCulloch spokesman, said his office believes the county prosecutor cannot be removed from the case.

“There is no petition process,” Magee said. “We are working with the county police. We will continue to work with them if it proceeds to the grand jury and beyond if necessary.”

Magee declined to comment further about Dooley’s accusations.

McCulloch has been the St. Louis County prosecutor for more than 20 years, and during that time has been involved with a support group called BackStoppers, which helps the families of police officers killed in the line of duty.

The prosecutor’s father, Paul McCulloch, was a St. Louis police officer when he was gunned down July 2, 1964, at age 37 while trying to arrest a kidnapper. He had answered a call by an officer in need of assistance at a housing complex and died in a shootout. One of the shooters was wounded and was later convicted of murder.

This is not the first time McCulloch’s objectivity has been questioned because of how his father died.

In July 2000, questions were raised about his leading an investigation into two white police officers who fatally shot two black men. The two officers, undercover drug agents, shot Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley, both unarmed, on June 12, 2000, in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in the St. Louis suburb of Berkeley. A county grand jury declined to indict the officers; McCulloch said he agreed with the decision.

“My father was killed many, many years ago, and it’s certainly not something you forget, but it’s certainly not something that clouds my judgment in looking at a case,” McCulloch told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at the time. “It certainly makes you more aware of the severity of it.”

Alice Crites, Mark Berman, Carol Leonnig and Manuel Roig-Franzia contributed to this report.

Kimberly Kindy is a government accountability reporter at The Washington Post.
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