William Freivogel

William Freivogel

William H. Freivogel is director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

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St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch discussing the grand jury decision on November 24, 2014.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Second of two articles - Last fall, after St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, the Ferguson grand jury was exhibit A among those pushing for grand jury reform and for special prosecutors in police shooting cases.

Protests and chants came into the St. Louis County Council chambers Tuesday night.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Why did the Justice Department conclude that Michael Brown didn’t cry out “Don’t shoot” and that, if he had his hands up, it was only for a moment before he began moving back toward Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson?

Jason Rojas | Flickr

One of the key reforms, experts agree, that should grow out of the death of Michael Brown is changing Missouri’s statute giving police officers broad authority to use deadly force against unarmed suspects.

But the bills now before the Missouri Legislature could make matters worse rather than better, say legal experts.  All of the bills are seriously flawed, say Saint Louis University law professors Chad Flanders and Marcia McCormick.

Courtesy Nate Birt

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s request for a St. Louis County judge to consider a new grand jury and special prosecutor in the death of Michael Brown calls for an action that is without precedent.

No Missouri court has appointed a special prosecutor and empaneled a second grand jury over the objection of the local prosecutor whose first grand jury did not indict, legal experts say. Nor does there appear to be a precedent anywhere else in the country.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch discussing the grand jury decision on November 24, 2014.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Just before the Darren Wilson grand jury began deliberating, the two prosecutors in the room gave the grand jurors an unusual message:  Ignore part of the Missouri law giving police officers broad power to use deadly force. 

“So, the statute I gave you,” said Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kathi Alizadeh, “if you want to fold that in half just so that, you know, don't necessarily rely on that because there is a portion of that that doesn't comply with the law.”

McCullouch used a courtroom in Clayton to announce the grand jury's decision to members of the press.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Some believe St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch’s investigation of the Michael Brown killing was a fair, thorough and proper use of the grand jury to investigate the facts and sound out the community in a highly sensitive case. McCulloch’s press conference and his decision to release transcripts of the grand jury proceedings were sensitive and transparent.

Police line the sidewalk in front of the Justice Center in Clayton Wednesday morning. 82014
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo

While St. Louis — and the nation —  wait for the grand jury decision on Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown, everyone is getting a civics lesson on the grand jury.  The grand jury is an institution that originated in medieval England as a protection against the Crown and that made its way in the Fifth Amendment. 

But the St. Louis County grand jury that has been hearing testimony in the death of Brown in Ferguson, is more atypical than typical.  For example it:

gavel court justice

(Updated at 3:25 p.m., Mon., Nov. 17)

An outdated Missouri law that allows police to shoot an unarmed fleeing felon could help Officer Darren Wilson avoid an indictment and prison, legal experts say.

If St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch advises the grand jury to follow the outdated law, he would be reducing the chances of an indictment. Wilson could be viewed as acting in line with state law when he shot unarmed Michael Brown after he began to flee.  

One of the most important changes to emerge from Michael Brown’s shooting is progress toward reform of St. Louis County’s balkanized municipal court system, where traffic tickets can derail poor people’s lives.

Change is certain.  The extent of the reform is not.

Comments last week by two of the most important figures in the reform efforts illustrate starkly different views of how seriously the muny court system is broken and how thoroughly it needs to be reformed.

At the Michael Brown memorial in mid-August
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo

Amid conflicting witness statements and autopsy analyses, dueling videotapes and a loud outcry for justice, there is substantial agreement about many of the facts surrounding the killing of Michael Brown.