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Justice Department Will Clear Wilson Of Civil Rights Charges, Say News Reports

Darren Wilson
Undated video grab

The New York Times is reporting that the Department of Justice is preparing a "legal memo recommending no civil rights charges against the officer, Darren Wilson," in the shooting death of Michael Brown. The Times report did not say when the memo would be released, but it has been widely reported that Attorney General Eric Holder wanted a resolution to the case before his departure.

NPR's Carrie Johnson is also reporting that "federal investigators have found no evidence to support civil rights charges against the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man," and a
"formal decision from the justice department may come soon."

The Justice Department told St. Louis Public Radio that it had no comment.

In November, a grand jury in St. Louis County declined to indict Wilson on any criminal charges.

The Justice Department's investigation is separate from the grand jury's criminal investigation. The federal investigation is looking into whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights. As William Freivogel reported for St. Louis Public Radio, "The federal law passed after the Civil War makes it a crime to deprive a person of 'any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.' When death results, life in prison or even the death penalty are punishments."

But, as Freivogel pointed out, civil rights prosecutions, which are rare to start with, are usually not very successful: "Federal prosecution requires a high level of proof because it requires proof that the officer specifically intended to deprive the victim of his civil rights."

Because of the inherent difficulties in these civil rights cases, legal analysts have long predicted that the Justice Department would not file charges against Wilson.

The Justice Department is also conducting a separate investigation into the Ferguson police department's practices and whether they are discriminatory. As Freivogel reported in another story, "A change in policing can be much more powerful than a criminal prosecution" in terms of bringing about structural reform and change.

Usually, Freivogel wrote, "The Justice Department’s pattern or practice cases usually result in consent decrees that run for five years and have similar provisions from city to city. These common provisions call for:

  • "Change in deadly force policies to reduce the instances of deadly force;
  • "Early warning procedures to identify officers with frequent complaints filed against them or who frequently violate department rules;
  • "Civilian review boards to give civilian investigators subpoena powers to investigate and discipline officers;
  • "Increased mental health services to help officers confronted by mentally ill people;
  • "Prompt disclosure to community leaders of both a police shooting of a civilian and the officer’s name, unlike the delay that followed Wilson’s shooting of Brown.
  • "Video cameras on squad cars or officers.
  • "Court monitors to ensure follow-up."

The Justice Department has not said when this investigation would be completed.

Susan Hegger comes to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon as the politics and issues editor, a position she has held at the Beacon since it started in 2008.