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by Peter Moskos

March 6, 2015

DOJ on Michael Brown Shooting: Justified

So many reports. So little time. [My other two posts on the DOJ reports: 2 & 3.]

First the easy one: the DOJ report on Darren Wilson shooting Michael Brown. The press seems more interested in the other DOJ report, the one that reams the whole criminal justice system in Ferguson a new one (more on that, later). But what about Darren Wilson and Michael Brown: the shooting that started it all.

This DOJ report really is a complete vindicate of Police Officer Wilson. 100 percent. And you can't really say that this is some racist white-wash from Eric Holder’s rah-rah pro-police Department of Justice.

Now you may say the protests were about so much more. OK. You may say that Ferguson Police overreacted with too much force against protests. Sure. I agree. None of that means Ferguson isn’t a fucked-up place, racially and institutionally. And maybe it's good that now we know about the business of racial injustice in Ferguson (that's the other report).

But let's not change the subject. Darren Wilson was legally and morally justified in shooting Michael Brown. The whole "shot while surrendering" part? It simply did not happen. To say otherwise approaches the wacky level of Creationists, climate-change deniers, and the anti-vaccine camp.

After I read the grand jury testimony, I was convinced: Darren Wilson's version rings true. The DOJ agrees. If you don't believe me, read the whole report. But the bottom line is this:
The evidence, when viewed as a whole, does not support the conclusion that Wilson's uses of deadly force were 'objectively unreasonable' under the Supreme Court's definition. Accordingly... it is not appropriate to present this matter to a federal grand jury for indictment, and it should therefore be closed without prosecution.
The end. Now that might not sound like huge statement in support of Officer Wilson. But the devil is in the details. The purpose of this report was not to exonerate Darren Wilson but to see if there was any reason to charge him federally. There isn't. But the details of the DOJ's report, based on all the evidence, presents a pretty unambiguous picture. These are now the facts:
Brown stole several packages of cigarillos. ... An FPD dispatch call went out over the police radio for a "stealing in progress." Wilson was aware of the theft and had a description of the suspects as he encountered Brown.
Wilson ... told the two men to walk on the sidewalk.... Wilson then called for backup, stating, "Put me on Canfield with two and send me another car." Wilson backed up his SUV.... stopping Brown and [Dorian Johnson] from walking any further. Wilson attempted to open the driver's door of the SUV to exit his vehicle, but as he swung it open, the door came into contact with Brown's body and either rebounded closed or Brown pushed it closed.

Wilson and other witnesses stated that Brown then reached into the SUV through the open driver's window and punched and grabbed Wilson. This is corroborated by bruising on Wilson's jaw and scratches on his neck, the presence of Brown’s DNA on Wilson's collar, shirt, and pants, and Wilson's DNA on Brown’s palm.
Brown then grabbed the weapon and struggled with Wilson to gain control of it. Wilson fired, striking Brown in the hand.... Brown used his right hand to grab and attempt to control Wilson's gun.... Brown's hand was within inches of the muzzle of Wilson's gun when it was fired. The location of the recovered bullet in the side panel of the driver's door... also corroborates Wilson's account.
There is no credible evidence to disprove Wilson's account of what occurred inside the SUV.
The autopsy results confirm that Wilson did not shoot Brown in the back as he was running away.
Brown ran at least 180 feet away from the SUV.... Brown then turned around and came back toward Wilson, falling to his death approximately 21.6 feet west of the blood in the roadway.
Several witnesses stated that Brown appeared to pose a physical threat to Wilson as he moved toward Wilson.... Wilson fired at Brown in what appeared to be self-defense and stopped firing once Brown fell to the ground.
While credible witnesses gave varying accounts of exactly what Brown was doing with his hands as he moved toward Wilson ... they all establish that Brown was moving toward Wilson when Wilson shot him.
As to witnesses who said things that contract these facts:
As detailed throughout this report, some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements with no explanation, credible for otherwise, as to why those accounts changed over time. Certain other witnesses who originally stated Brown had his hands up in surrender recanted their original accounts, admitting that they did not witness the shooting or parts of it, despite what they initially reported either to federal or local law enforcement or to the media.
That's it. So you can keep whatever world view you want. [I am the only person on the Venn Diagram who was convinced that George Zimmerman was guilty and Darren Wilson was innocent?] If you thought Michael Brown was executed in cold blood by a racist cop, you were misinformed about the facts. Now you should change your opinion.

[In an otherwise informative piece, Ta-Nahasi Coates admits Wilson's innocence as charged but says, "Darren Wilson is not the first gang member to be publicly accused of a crime he did not commit." Oh, snap. But Wilson may be the first innocent person in the 21st century to inspire mass public protests assured of his guilt.]

What about Police Officer Darren Wilson? The mob of public opinion declares him guilty. As far as I know he's still in hiding. He's innocent. Is he really an agent of a criminal operation? Or does he get his life and job back?


Matt said...

You answered your own final question about the future of Darren Wilson. In a world of creationists, climate change deniers, and anti-vaxers, facts simply do not matter. This covers the full run of the political and idealogical spectrums. Wilson was judged guilty by the vox populi. The fact that he is actually not guilty is merely an inconvenient truth, and the outrage is to be shrugged off and excused with the misdirection of what the REAL issue is. It is exactly equivalent to the anti-vaxer response to the thoroughly debunked vaccines-lead-to-autism debacle. There but for the grace of god go we all.

Moskos said...

I suppose. (And well said.)

And on the flip side, I'd love all the Darren Wilson defenders (after saying "told you so") to say: "Wow, regardless of the shooting, Ferguson is really fucked up!"

There were two DOJ reports. And they're both really important.

David Woycechowsky said...

Brown didn't steal cigarillos. He was in the process of returning cigarillos to the counter of the store when the shopkeeper attempted to lock him in the store. Michael Brown then used force to prevent the shopkeeper from arresting him.

As far as the rest: should have been decided at a criminal trial in open court with a judge and a normal jury. The way this case was decided is not how criminal cases are decided for regcits. Just like the trial George Zimmerman, to name one example, got. Ken White over at the Popehat had an eloquent post about this aspect of the injustice.

While Eric Holder is clearly not be an anti-African-American-type racist, he definitely is in favor of the executive branch being able to decide cases with a dog and pony show, and without intermeddling of the judicial branch.

Adam said...

A criminal trial is not the equivalent of discovery in a civil proceeding. The purpose is not to lay out the evidence in open court and figure out the truth. The purpose is to seek a conviction. The prosecutor, who has all the inculpatory evidence ahead of time, is supposed to decide whether a reasonable jury, viewing the same evidence, could vote to convict. If the answer is "no," the prosecutor should not, and generally does not, bring charges. In Ferguson, the DA was too afraid to issue a report like the DOJ's, saying "We've decided on our own that criminal charges against Wilson would be inappropriate." That's what the DA should have done. But instead he used the grand jury process to give himself political cover, which is why the process was so f-ed up. True, normal grand juries don't look like the one we saw in Ferguson, but that's because when prosecutors don't think there's enough evidence to support a conviction, they do what the DOJ did--they don't put the case before a grand jury at all. They just close the case without charging anybody.

And as far as Zimmerman is concerned, as much as I think the guy is an asshole who racially profiled an innocent teenager, there wasn't enough evidence to prove that he murdered Trayvon Martin. That's why the authorities initially decided not to bring charges, and that's why, when the specially-appointed prosecutor did bring charges, the state's case was lost before it began. When cases are that weak, prosecutors aren't supposed to let them see the inside of a courtroom.

campbell said...

I am the only person on the Venn Diagram who was convinced that George Zimmerman was guilty and Darren Wilson was innocent?

I'm in there with you. I thought the prosecution screwed themselves by going for murder instead of manslaughter. The stand your ground law clearly states that it doesn't apply to confrontations the suspect has instigated. In my opinion if you follow a stranger committing no crime in your car and then pursue them on foot when they try and run from you then that person should rightfully view you as a threat. You don't then get to shoot that person when they punch you. You instigated that situation for no legitimate reason.

Adam said...

I hate to revive old debates, but Zimmerman never invoked the SYG law for his defense, and the law had no effect on the outcome of the case. Zimmerman invoked regular self defense law, which says you can use deadly force if you reasonably believe you're about to suffer death or serious bodily injury. (And that's as much a defense to manslaughter as it is to murder). If A grabs B by the jacket and says "Hey! Get out of my neighborhood!" and then B proceeds to brutally beat A such that A reasonably believes he's about to die, A can use deadly force to defend himself.

We'll never whether Zimmerman stalked Martin, grabbed him, punched him, or tried to restrain him, and we'll never know just how much of a threat Martin posed to Zimmerman when he was on top of him. That's the unfortunate thing about most of these cases. Dead men tell no tales, so the person invoking self defense usually offers the only version of events. If that story squares with the physical evidence, then even if the story seems a little fishy, you just can't prove that case beyond a reasonable doubt. If, as in Ferguson, the story squares with the physical evidence *and* numerous impartial eyewitness accounts, well, that is not a case that should be put before a jury.

Moskos said...

At least one juror on the Zimmerman trial said Stand Your Ground mattered. So it mattered. And the law doesn't necessarily have to "invoked." It's the law.

Dan Abrams (the link) is too clever by half.