Defense Lawyer: Ferguson PD Video Release Could Taint Probe

Tuesday, 19 Aug 2014 03:35 PM

By Sean Piccoli

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The Michael Brown robbery video released by Ferguson, Mo., police could discredit the probe into his death by sowing doubts about whether local authorities intend to conduct a fair and impartial investigation, a criminal defense lawyer told Newsmax TV on Tuesday.

The release of the clip in the wake of Brown's fatal shooting by a Ferguson police officer was the department's "biggest mistake," Florida lawyer Janet Johnson told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner. 

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The video — in which Brown appears to steal cigars from behind a convenience store counter and then shove the clerk before walking out — has drawn criticism from some quarters as an effort by police to justify the killing, minutes later, of the unarmed Brown in broad daylight. 

Brown, 18, was black. The officer identified as his shooter, six-year Ferguson police force veteran Darren Wilson, is white. Violent, racially charged public protests have shaken the St. Louis suburb since the deadly August 9 encounter, and continued in violation of a state-imposed curfew.

Johnson said that the video release also puts an extra burden of proof on Missouri police and prosecutors, whose job it is to investigate the shooting without prejudice no matter where the facts lead. 

"Basically, they took a side right from the beginning," Johnson said of Ferguson police, "and if they're going to do an investigation, they have to appear impartial. That may be impossible."

Johnson said that the department's impulse to protect one of its own is natural and understandable.

"It might be that this is somebody who they know and they like and they care about," she said of Wilson. "But they initially basically said, 'This is the narrative. This is what happened,' and it was really just a one-sided narrative."

The question of where the robbery video turns up next could also complicate the probe, said Johnson.

"If the first piece of evidence that the police leaked was that video, is that going to be what's presented to the grand jury?" she said.

Johnson said that questions also surround the chief prosecutor in St. Louis County, Mo., Bob McCulloch, who will decide whether or not to pursue charges against Wilson.

McCulloch has deep family ties to law enforcement and is the son of a police officer who was killed in the line of duty by a black gunman.

McCulloch also criticized Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's decision to replace county officers with state troopers at the protests, calling the switch a "shameful" denigration of the county police force, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Johnson said it might be advisable for McCulloch to hand off the Brown-Wilson case to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

"If there isn't a special prosecutor assigned or a special investigating body assigned, it's really hard to get the narrative out there to know what the facts are," said Johnson.

In a follow-up segment, Nadra Enzi, a black anti-crime activist from New Orleans, said that another contributing factor to the chaos in Ferguson is the heavy-handed presence of the news media.

"I understand that there's a rush to be a part of a 21st Century version of the L.A. riots or the Rodney King riots, but people have to exercise common sense at all times," said Enzi. "It's a volatile situation. You have armed and dangerous people who are attempting to co-opt a questionable public outcry. … News members are not exempt from possibly being caught up by either side in the struggle that's going on."

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