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McCulloch Has No Regrets: 'I Did What I Thought Was Right'

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announces on Nov 24, 2014, that the grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson on any of five counts that were presented to it.
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch says he’s not surprised by the scrutiny his office continues to receive as a result of the grand jury decision a month ago not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

In fact, McCulloch observed in an interview Tuesday that his staff is conducting its own examination of how the office handled the investigation of the Ferguson shooting on Aug. 9, which touched off months of unrest – locally and around the world.

“We will dissect this, look at it and pick it apart,” McCulloch said, adding that’s standard procedure for any major trial.

All that said, he added,  “Overall, I don’t see a whole lot that we would have done differently.”

“I did what I thought was right under the circumstances in presenting everything to the grand jury,” McCulloch said. “So I assumed everything would be gone through with a fine tooth comb and analyzed and criticized as it has been -- sometimes without looking at the facts, but that’s how some people operate.”

McCulloch’s remarks came as he prepares for another round of scrutiny, this time by legislators in Jefferson City.

A legislative panel already has formed to examine the actions of Gov. Jay Nixon, who also has come under fire for various actions or inaction.

Some legislators have asked that the committee look into McCulloch’s actions as well, and they have filed proposals to change how police shootings are handled, such as requiring special prosecutors.

The prosecutor said he’s not surprised by the legislative focus, but that he hopes the discussions won’t get sidetracked by politics.

Since the Ferguson shooting on Aug. 9, McCulloch said, “There are certain political people who tragically were looking at their own political future and trying to put themselves in the limelight to capitalize on this tragedy. (That) did absolutely no good for anybody and anything except themselves. And I expect that will continue in Jefferson City to some extent.”

He declined to name names.

No grand jury witnesses facing perjury charges

Some recent national coverage also has focused on McCulloch’s remarks that some grand jury witnesses may have been lying.  But McCulloch said it takes a lot more than simple suspicions to charge someone with perjury for lying under oath.

“It’s not that simple,” he said, explaining that there needs to be “confirmation that (the testimony) was knowingly and intentionally false.”

Regarding those who testified before the grand jury, McCulloch said, “I don’t know anyone facing a perjury charge.”

However, McCulloch noted that about 20 people face prosecution after being charged with felonies related to looting and arson in and around Ferguson on the night of Nov. 24, right after the grand jury’s decision was announced.

“The guys who were bent on destruction, they were not protesters, they were criminals,” McCulloch said. “And they are going to do what they are going to do, when they got the opportunity.”

Some critics have asked why McCulloch waited until 8 p.m. on Nov. 24 to announce the grand jury’s decision against an indictment. McCulloch said he had little choice because the panel didn’t present its verdict until around 1 p.m.

"Preparations then had to be made, and the press needed to be alerted,’’ he recalled.  Authorities wanted to wait until area children – many of whom travel by bus -- also had arrived home from school.

A few days earlier, McCulloch said, he had expected the jury might complete its work by the weekend. “There’s no good time to do it, (but) I would have preferred to have done it, say, on a Sunday morning,’’ he said.

But the prosecutor emphasized that it was the grand jury who controlled the timetable.

In the immediate hours after the decision was announced, McCulloch said he was surprised to discover that the governor had apparently not deployed National Guard troops to Ferguson and in St. Louis’ Shaw neighborhood – the two epicenters for the most vigorous protests and unrest.

“Like an awful lot of people, I’m kind of wondering where the National Guard troops were that night,” McCulloch said. He also reaffirmed earlier comments that he had no contact with Nixon or the governor’s office prior to the grand jury announcement

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.