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Politically Speaking: McCulloch reflects on Michael Brown saga — and what needs to be done next

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch

With the clock ticking closer to the anniversary of Michael Brown’s shooting death, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies welcome St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch for a special edition of Politically Speaking.

McCulloch has been St. Louis County’s prosecutor since January 1991, when he took over for fellow Democrat Buzz Westfall. McCulloch has faced little opposition for his job ever since; in November 2014, he didn't even have a GOP opponent.

The north St. Louis native went through two major life events early on in life – a cancer diagnosis as a teenager that cost him his leg, and the death of his police-officer father in the line of duty, when McCulloch was a boy.

Before Brown’s shooting death, McCulloch was one of the more popular elected officials from the St. Louis region. Many high-level Democratic officials, including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Attorney General Chris Koster, sought out his political endorsement. In fact, many believe McCulloch’s endorsement of then-County Councilman Steve Stenger for county executive last year was a death knell for St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley’s long political career.

A portion of this podcast will be on Cityscape Friday Aug. 7.

But after Brown’s shooting death, McCulloch became the subject of national and international scrutiny – much of it critical -- primarily because of his decision to use a grand jury to decide whether to charge former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson with a crime.

Ultimately, the grand jury decided not to indict Wilson – a move that sparked rioting and looting in Ferguson. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice also saw no criminal action by Wilson in  Brown’s shooting.

Since the grand jury’s decision, some policymakers offered proposals that would appoint independent prosecutors for police-involved killings – an idea McCulloch doesn’t support. But McCulloch said that he’s gratified the episode prompted more discussions about the viability of municipalities in St. Louis County – and the need to have more professionalized police forces.

Among McCulloch's other observations on the show:

St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies talk with McCulloch before a recording of the Politically Speaking podcast.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies talk with McCulloch before a recording of the Politically Speaking podcast.

  • He doesn't regret flooding the grand jury with information and witnesses, believing that was the best course of action. But he acknowledges that perhaps his office should have done more to educate the public about what a grand jury does and how it operates.
  • He now recognizes the power of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. He believes social media played a powerful role, and not always a good one, in the wake of Brown's death. McCulloch contends that many inaccurate rumors on social media fed the fury of some protesters.
  • McCulloch emphasized that Brown's demise was "a horrible, tragic death."
  • He believes some county municipalities, especially in low-income areas, should consider disbanding or merging because they don't have the money to provide adequate law enforcement and other services to their residents. At a minimum, McCulloch recommends that those communities disband their police departments and contract with the St. Louis County police department to provide law-enforcement services.
  • He has yet to decide whether to endorse any candidates in the 2016 election, or whether he'll seek another term in 2018.

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter@jmannies

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter@jrosenbaum

Music: “Harrowdown Hill” by Thom Yorke

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.