A grand jury investigated the August 9, 2014, death of Michael Brown and decided not to indict Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting. The federal government also conducted its own investigations, ultimately deciding to not press civil rights charges against Wilson but finding systemic racial bias at the Ferguson Police Department.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, who had full control of the evidence presented to the grand jury, promised that “absolutely everything will be presented to the grand jury. Every scrap of paper that we have. Every photograph that was taken.” City, county, and federal officials helped gather and submit evidence to the grand jury.
Protesters and experts criticized McCulloch’s approach, which included presenting evidence he knew was false. Some experts speculated this approach was meant to flood the grand jury with too much evidence to obfuscate the case and make an indictment less likely. “The prosecutors didn’t want to indict,” former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin told CNN. “That’s why they conducted it that way.”
Grand juries can be easily manipulated by prosecutors like McCulloch to let cops escape trial. Prosecutors have full control of the evidence presented to grand jurors. But they also need to forge close ties with police officers to be successful at their everyday jobs, since law enforcement usually investigates the criminal cases they’re working on. “They do work in the courts … every day with police officers,” Thomas Nolan, a criminologist at the Merrimack College of Massachusetts, said. “They forge professional relationships with them. Sometimes they have personal relationships with them.”
The US Department of Justice also investigated whether the shooting violated Brown’s civil rights, ultimately deciding to file no charges against Wilson. Prosecutors would have to find Wilson willfully violated Brown’s rights — a very high legal bar — to press charges. But investigators found no credible evidence to contradict Wilson’s claim that he legitimately feared for his life when he killed Brown.
The Justice Department also investigated the Ferguson Police Department as a whole, finding a pattern of racial bias and even examples of outright racism among local officials. For protesters, these findings were seen as vindicating — since they proved many of the racial disparities they claimed were prominent in local courts and police.