Ferguson and The Grand Jury Sieve

Who says the cops in St. Louis don’t learn how to play the media?  Sure, they may have arrested reporters and gotten nailed on video dismantling equipment after they gassed them, but that was then. This is now:

Some of the physical evidence — including blood spatter analysis, shell casings and ballistics tests — also supports Wilson’s account of the shooting, The Post’s sources said, which casts Brown as an aggressor who threatened the officer’s life. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited from publicly discussing the case.

See that last sentence?  These bits, together with Wilson’s accounts, come from grand jury leaks.  The grand jury operates in secrecy, so that means they get to selectively spill what serves their interests and maintain anonymity so they are immune from responsibility for violating grand jury secrecy. Except,

as former St. Louis County police chief Tim Fitch has said in interviews that there can be benefits to leaks. “It’s not a surprise to people” when a decision is announced, he said.

And this was part of a carefully-scripted scheme.

Former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch says we can expect to see more leaks of information in the Michael Brown case and that the New York Times piece over the weekend about a struggle leading up to the shooting death of the 18-year-old was coordinated.

Fitch said these coordinated leaks of information are allowed by the feds and that it is a way to “start getting some of the facts out there to kind of let people down slowly,” according to KMOX. Fitch called this type of information “phase two,” saying that phase one was Eric Holder‘s announcement that the feds would do a complete review of the Ferguson Police Department and take over.

And AG Holder is helpless.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has told Justice Department lawyers that he is “exasperated” with leaks emerging from the grand jury involved in investigating the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, according to a Justice official.

Holder referred to the leaks as a “selective flow of information,” and characterized them as “inappropriate and troubling.”

Naturally, everyone associated with the presentment denies being the leaker, but that would certainly be the case. What’s the point of being an anonymous source if not to deny leaking?

All of this serves two purposes.  First, through the selective leaking of information about Darren Wilson’s “testimony,” thus saving Wilson from having to actually speak for himself and be subject to question or challenge, they get the preferred narrative out there without any risk of question, while simultaneously maintaining plausible deniability should some claim blow up in his face.

But as Tim Finch notes, it paves the way for the let down that will come when the grand jury “no true bills” the case.  Suck some of the air out of the protests now, and there won’t be much left later.  This is similarly part of the design of the grand jury presentment taking months rather than hours, as would ordinarily be the case.  Time, time, time is on their side, yes it is.

The question that remains unanswered is whether these shenanigans will suffice to calm the waters and take the wind out of the Ferguson protesters’ sails.  Certainly, it will feed the cynics’ and conspiracy theorists’ beliefs, but they can’t be stopped no matter what.  Will it be sufficient to make the vast swathe of middle America sufficiently comfortable that they can sleep peacefully at night again, knowing that their protectors are the good guys and don’t shoot down 18-year-old black kids in the street for kicks?

There are few who are engaged in the system who thought Darren Wilson would be indicted.  The nature of the presentment, all the evidence, as prosecutor and dear friend to police, Robert McCulloch, promised, made that clear from the outset.  Prosecutors who want to indict present the evidence in support of an indictment, not the evidence that muddies the waters. Prosecutors who want to indict do so now, not months from now.  The grand jury isn’t a trial, but a presentation to demonstrate that there is sufficient evidence to go to trial.  That didn’t happen here.

As Sol Wachtler famously noted, if a prosecutor so desired, he could indict a ham sandwich.  The whole grand jury as protector of the people from baseless prosecution thing never worked out as well as hoped.  Get over it.

So when the headline reads that the Darren Wilson grand jury failed to indict, no one will be surprised, and there will be plenty of information to justify and explain why the evidence just wasn’t there.  Lawprofs, denominated experts notwithstanding their never having tried a case, will opine about the relative value of the proof of guilt, and conclude that the grand jury had no other choice.

And the nice folks of Ferguson, Missouri, and young black men around the country, will lower their heads, unpersuaded, perhaps even more cynical than ever, and wonder if and when it will be their turn to be on the wrong end of a cop’s gun.

But the good news is that the rest of us, living in nice, white middle class communities, can bask in the knowledge that system worked and stop feeling badly about how police behave.  There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep.

25 thoughts on “Ferguson and The Grand Jury Sieve

    1. SHG Post author

      Journalists have the right to protect their sources. Nobody forces them to, especially when those sources are government actors who are using the journalists to manipulate public perception.

      1. John Burgess

        Absolutely true. Now, finding a journalist who would be willing to admit he was being used like a dishrag and give up the leaker… I’m not holding my breath.

  1. Dan

    Notably, they haven’t leaked details on where Wilson and Brown were when the fatal shots were fired, which seems kind of important.

    Anyway, people involved in the grand jury process are breaking the law. So the whole thing is suspect.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s not entirely clear that they are breaking the law, actually. Missouri has particularly weak grand jury secrecy laws, which prohibit the grand jurors from spilling their guts but not much else.

    1. SHG Post author

      If there was, it would have been to the 37 people who sent these and related stories to me before you, or that I saw this on my own before that. But if it really matters, you sent it to me too, so H/T Bill.

      1. william doriss

        Thanx, and H/Ts to the other 37. Ha. Your loyal readership, always looking to front-run and help you out with breaking stories of interest to SJ.

  2. Larry Jelley

    Why doesn’t Mr. Holder investigate these leaks as aggressively as the whistle blowers he and his boss seem to demonize on a regular basis. Whenever someone leaks information that is favorable to the government, there is not a peep from the powers that be. Whenever someone leaks information embarrassing to the government, the DOJ pulls out all the stops to find and prosecute the source of the leak. Even coercing reporters with the threat to jail if they do not reveal the leak.

  3. David Woycechowsky

    I can’t get over the fact that the alleged fact that Brown was shot in the police car is supportive of a version of the story where Brown runs away after being shot, then decides that he hasn’t really been shot too badly so he then has a change of heart and tries to attack Darren Wilson (who is still holding a gun that he has manifested willingness to use a few seconds earlier). Occam’s razor tells me that the shot & bleeding guy is more likely to surrender than counterattack. In other words, I am even more troubled by the spin on the leaks (which supposedly support Wilson) than the leaks themselves (which seem to me to support Brown).

    1. ExCop-LawStudent

      “Occam’s razor tells me that the shot & bleeding guy is more likely to surrender than counterattack.”

      You would be surprised by what happens in the real world, on the street. Turning back to attack is not uncommon. I had one do that to me, and I hit him with the huge Motorola handheld MX radio on the side of the head. It knocked him out and destroyed the radio. Understand, hitting like that would not have been my first choice, but it was all that there was time for. I can very easily see Brown turning back and charging Wilson.

      1. David Woycechowsky

        Yes, but in your case you hadn’t shot the guy first (and you had especially not shot him in the hand). That is the key thing I am trying to have understood here.

        Even if Michael Brown was turning around, after first clearing a good distance between himself and the shooter, to attack and charge, Wilson would have had no way of distinguishing that from a surrender.

        Question: if you had been Wilson, when Brown ran away from your bloody vehicle, while he was running away, would you have shouted anything at him? If so, what would you have shouted?

        1. SHG Post author

          I think the point is that confrontation breeds weird and unanticipated reactions. They may not make a lot of sense, but happen anyway. That by no means affects what in fact happen with Michael Brown, but merely doesn’t preclude it from the universe of possibilities.

          1. David Woycechowsky

            Very true. Wilson should have been arrested at the scene, and, once that happened, we would have gotten everybody’s story in a timely fashion and been able to form our opinions in light of the information flow resulting from Wilson’s bail hearing and further proceedings conducted by the local prosecutor, and, perhaps, eventually, the open criminal court. If things had gone that way, as they should have, then I would not still be reserving judgement on what happened with Wilson and Brown. However, instead of things going as they should have, we get bits and pieces of prejudicial leaks that are spun so that people, like ECLS are willing to entertain the weirdest possibilities, as if they are likelihoods, and then not even care if the full facts are forever cloaked by the veil of gj secrecy.

            1. SHG Post author

              ECLS isn’t “entertaining” anything. He’s pointing out the error of your reasoning. Doing so does not mean that he embraces the alternative. Chill on the butthurt and read it for what it is.

        2. ExCop-LawStudent

          David, weird stuff happens on the street. People get shot and don’t realize it until they have beaten the other guy half to death. I remember a guy that got pistol-whipped on the back of the head, had bright (really bright, more than usual) red blood from shoulder blade to shoulder blade to waist AND who still wanted to fight us (the police), even after the EMTs started treating him.

          As to what I would say or do? I have no clue, I wasn’t there. I’m not going to speculate on what I would say either. Could Brown have been turning to surrender? Sure. Or he could have been charging at Wilson. Logic isn’t going to solve this problem.

          My point is that the street is not a nice and neat place, where people do what is logical or likely. It is messy and disorderly, and people do all sorts of stupid stuff. Sometimes this gets them killed.

          1. David Woycechowsky

            I agree it is possible that Brown was charging. I disagree that the alleged fact that he was shot in Wilson’s car, if true, would make it more likely for a reasonable fact-finder to find that he was charging. The opposite is true. Get shot in the hand doesn’t make charging impossible, but it makes it LESS LIKELY.

            1. ExCop-LawStudent

              The point I am trying to make is that your premise that being shot in the struggle at the car makes is more likely that Brown was surrendering does not follow, logically.

              Any lawyer and most law students can defeat that with the presentation of evidence, most likely by police and firearms experts on the dynamics of such street encounters.

              Someone like Massad Ayoob can go over the dynamics of such an encounter as an expert witness.

              You need more than your belief that it was unlikely, for if you charge Wilson, you have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. This can easily raise such a doubt.

  4. Liz W

    I’ve been saying for the better part of 2 days that there is nothing new being presented.
    We already knew a shot was fired in the car, so GSR on Brown is really a moot point. What’s never been disputed is that the fatal shots were fired from over 30 feet (possibly significantly further), that’s the part that makes an indictment appropriate. People in the Wilson camp have been relentless in trying to obfuscate that fact.

  5. Jake DiMare

    Very recently, stories are popping up in the media explaining violent protests are actually more effective. Break out the popcorn, it’s time for some good old fashioned smashy smashy!

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