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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Ferguson protest 3/12/2015
Lawrence Bryant | St. Louis American

African Americans who live near where Michael Brown was shot showed a sharp decrease in how much they trust police and believe in their legitimacy in the weeks after Brown’s death, according to a survey by a criminologist at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

Meanwhile, white residents who live near the shooting showed no decrease in support for police. In fact, there was a slight uptick in how much they trust police.

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.

Provided by 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.

William Freivogel for St. Louis Public Radio

CINCINNATI – Cincinnati’s police reform following a deadly police shooting and riots in 2001 has lessons for Ferguson and St. Louis. Here is what the reformers there say:

Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio

When 250 Ferguson residents met with the Justice Department last week, many of them made it abundantly clear that they wanted the government to arrest and indict Officer Darren Wilson and to investigate St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch.

Over grumbles from the audience, Justice Department lawyers politely explained they could promise none of these things.


When the Justice Department met with Ferguson residents this week, a phalanx of a dozen federal officials stood before the citizens in front of the room.  They represented an alphabet soup of federal offices that Attorney General Eric Holder has thrown at the problems in Ferguson.

There was a criminal investigation, a pattern-or-practice investigation, a COPs inquiry, a Community Relations Service mediation, a continuing investigation into St. Louis County family court and an inquiry into how discipline is meted out in the schools.

Bill Greenblatt, UPI

Updated 11:15 a.m., Wed., Sept. 17

If the St. Louis County grand jury fails to indict Officer Darren Wilson, Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch will immediately release full transcripts and audio recordings of the grand jury proceedings, his spokesman said Tuesday.

ferguson march 81614
Linda Lockhart | St. Louis Public Radio

The purpose of a grand jury, in theory, is to protect citizens against unfair and unwarranted prosecutions by the government. In medieval England, it was viewed as a protection against the Crown. Colonists found the institution protected them against unfair English prosecutions and included the right to a grand jury in the Fifth Amendment.

But in practice, the prosecutor who runs the grand jury has a great deal of influence in orchestrating the outcome. A well-worn saying is that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

Nixon at a press conference in August
Bill Greenblatt / UPI

Ferguson protesters insisted at a raucous meeting on Saturday that Gov. Jay Nixon act quickly to charge Ferguson officer Darren Wilson with murder in the shooting death of Michael Brown. 

St. Louis on the Air discussed this and other legal issues associated with Ferguson on Monday:

Flickr/Paul Sableman

The Constitution does not permit police to fire at unarmed, nonviolent, fleeing suspects unless there is a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or the public.

The police account of Saturday's events is that Michael Brown fought for a gun in a police cruiser before being shot dead a short distance from the car. Given that account, one question in Brown’s shooting death at the hands of Ferguson police is whether Brown would be considered a non-dangerous suspect.

U.S. Supreme Court
Matt H. Wade | Wikipedia

The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision may not be as big a threat to contraceptive coverage for women as it first appeared.

After a few weeks of legal sleuthing, several leading Supreme Court experts think the court has signaled it will approve a compromise to provide free contraceptive coverage to women who work for companies and religious nonprofits that object to the coverage on religion grounds.

Governments cannot ban anti-abortion "sidewalk counselors" from a 35-foot buffer zone that includes the sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic unless the governments first have tried less restrictive methods of protecting women from face-to-face intimidation as they enter reproductive health facilities.