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McCulloch Plans To Start Grand Jury Proceedings In Brown Case Quickly

Bill Greenblatt | UPI

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch says he plans to install a grand jury “within days’’ to begin examining evidence relating to the Aug. 9 police shooting that killed teenager Michael Brown and precipatated a week’s worth of unrest in Ferguson.

“We’re going to start presenting everything to the grand jury as quickly as we can,’’ McCulloch said in an interview Saturday. “We’re not going to wait until we have everything and then do it.”

He also called Saturday for any members of the public “who saw anything or heard anything’’ pertaining to Brown’s death “to get that information to us.”

McCulloch’s swift action – he was interviewed while calling from his office – is likely to shift the focus from what’s happening on the streets in Ferguson to what protesters hope to see in the courts in Clayton.

And that’s fine with some of his critics.

“Your anger is misdirected,’’ shouted U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, as he addressed angry protesters at a Ferguson news conference called by Gov. Jay Nixon. “On a state charge of murder, the county prosecutor files the charges.”

Clay added that he was seeking a federal takeover the investigation – instead of the parallel probes – because, “You’re not going to get a fair trial in St. Louis County with this scenario.”

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley reaffirmed Saturday that he wants McCulloch to step down and be replaced by a special prosecutor. “The general public and this community don’t have confidence that he can be unbiased,’’ Dooley said.

McCulloch said such jabs “come with the territory.’’ He also has no plans to step aside as the chief prosecutor overseeing the county's investigation into Brown’s death.

“I’ve been elected to this position by voters,’’ said McCulloch, noting that he garnered over 70 percent of the vote in the Aug. 5 primary. He has no Republican opponent in November, so he’s guaranteed another term in the job that he’s held for 24 years.

As a result, McCulloch said he’s confident that most St. Louis County residents see him as unbiased. He’s also used to attacks, even from fellow Democrats like Clay.

Stands by criticism of Nixon's handling of Ferguson unrest

In various cases over the years, said McCulloch, “some people like the outcome. Some don’t.”

This time, he sees some of the attacks as “diversions’’ from what he says should be the primary focus on the fatal shooting of Brown by a Ferguson police officer.

McCulloch said he already has assembled a team of the top lawyers in his office and that they’re already at work.

McCulloch’s blunt talk generated headlines on Thursday when he blasted Nixon’s decision to put the state Highway Patrol in control of restoring order in Ferguson. That job had been under the St. Louis County Police Department, which came under fire for deploying armored vehicles, tear gas and officers in riot gear.

Among other things, McCulloch contended that the governor was overstepping his authority and putting county officers in danger.

On Saturday, McCulloch said he wasn’t retracting his comments. But he didn’t want to expand on them either, saying the focus on the police dispute would overshadow what should be attention on Brown's death.

“There’s nothing to be gained by further comments,’’ McCulloch said.

McCulloch’s decision was in line with Nixon’s refusal to make any statements about the prosecutor although the governor has reaffirmed his support for a county probe into the shooting.

“The governor and I have known each other since he was a state senator,’’ McCulloch recalled. As for their relationship, he added drily, “We’ve had our ups and downs.”

The two, both Democrats, tangled occasionally during Nixon’s 16 years as Missouri's attorney general. But McCulloch said Saturday that he wasn’t going to replay any of those old disputes.

Shares concern about release of video, photos of Brown

McCulloch appears to have a more amiable relationship with current Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who the prosecutor called a friend. McCulloch said they’ve been talking regularly since the unrest in Ferguson began.

Koster has told critics seeking to oust McCulloch from the probe that neither he nor the governor has the power to do so since McCulloch is elected. State law indicates that opponents seeking a special prosecutor would need to go to court.

McCulloch contends that Dooley’s call for a special prosecutor may be related to McCulloch’s active campaigning on behalf of County Councilman Steve Steve Stenger, who handily defeated Dooley in the Aug. 5 primary.

McCulloch said Saturday that the video and photos of Brown that were released this week by the Ferguson police will be part of the evidence presented to the grand jury. The video and photos appear to link him to a convenience store robbery shortly before the shooting.

McCulloch observed that he agreed with those who objected to the public release of the video and photos, although he added that he understood that the Ferguson police may have had no other choice under the state’s Sunshine Law. “I certainly would have preferred that it not have come out,’’ he said.

Clay wants the federal Justice Department to take over the case as a civil rights matter, although he understands that any murder charge must come from McCulloch.

When asked about McCulloch’s decision to put a grand jury in place, Clay replied tersely, “I would like to see Mr. McCulloch do his job.”

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.