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Brown's parents will sue Ferguson over son's death

Michael Brown's mother, Lezley McSpadden, listens on March 5, 2015, as attorney Daryl Parks announces the family's intent to sue former police officer Darren Wilson and the city of Ferguson for her son's death.
FIle photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Updated as of 10:30 pm., April 22, 2015:

The family of Michael Brown will file a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Ferguson on Thursday, according to a news  release sent Wednesday night.

Details of the suit, including the amount being sought, were not immediately available. It's also not clear if former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Brown, will also be a defendant.

Attorneys for the family announced their intention to sue last month.

The civil suit is expected to rely on much of the same evidence presented in state and federal investigations into the police shooting. But attorney Anthony Gray said the lawsuit will show a "more accurate picture of what took place that day."

Wilson was not indicted by a St. Louis County grand jury in Brown's death, nor did a federal investigation find he violated Brown's civil rights. But the Justice Department did find a a pattern of discriminatory practices by Ferguson's  court and police department.

Our original story from March 5, 2015:

Former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will not face criminal charges for shooting and killing Michael Brown in August — but he may still end up in a courtroom over the incident.

Attorneys for Brown's parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., announced Thursday they plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Wilson and the city of Ferguson. Many of the details, including potential other parties, the amount of damages, and whether the suit will be filed in state or federal court, were not immediately available.

"In our case, we plan to show and outline pretty much the same evidence," said Anthony Gray, a local attorney. "However, you'll get a much clearer picture, a more accurate picture, of what took place that day."

The family appreciates the work that went into the state and federal criminal investigations, Gray said. But they fundamentally disagree that Wilson was acting in self defense.

"We've always felt from the very beginning that Officer Darren Wilson did not have to shoot and kill Mike Brown Jr. in broad daylight in the manner that he did," Gray said. "He had other options available to him."

The U.S. Justice Department announced on Wednesday that it could find no credible evidence to disprove Wilson's story that he was afraid for his life when he killed Brown. Daryl Parks, another one of the family's attorneys, said that ruling was difficult for his clients to accept. But he said they felt somewhat vindicated by the separateJustice Department report on the Ferguson Police Department.

" It’s important to remember that the things that they have found within the Ferguson Police Department were the same culture that existed, on Aug. 9, when Darren Wilson met Michael Brown in that street," Parks said. "That situation has to change quickly for the safety of the citizens of this community."

Civil vs. criminal, state vs. federal

Wrongful death lawsuits are not uncommon, especially in high profile cases. Such suits give victims' families a path for legal recourse, even without criminal charges. Their main appeal is that they're easier to win, said Chuck Henson, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law.

Criminal convictions require that familiar standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt," Henson said. "A jury is informed that they effectively have to be so certain that they would rely on their conclusions for a major decision in their own life."

By contrast, he said, civil cases require only a preponderance of the evidence — "the mere tipping of the scales." That's how it was possible for O.J. Simpson to be forced to pay $40 million to the families of his ex-wife and her friend even though a jury found him not guilty of murder using the same evidence.

The legal standard is the same for state and federal cases, but what has to be proven is different, said Steven Ryals, a St. Louis civil rights attorney. For a state case, Brown's parents will have to get a jury to agree that the preponderance of the evidence shows that Wilson committed the civil crime of battery. By contrast, a federal case requires proof that Wilson violated Brown's Fourth Amendment rights regarding search and seizure.

Ferguson officials would not comment on the potential lawsuits because they have not yet been filed.

Listen to the story from NPR.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.