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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

don't believe the prosecutor: a comparison of Michael Brown's murder with Patricia Cook's

McCullach, the prosecutor in Ferguson, said, in his press conference, that it was almost impossible to convict a police officer with the laws as they are now. This was, of course, the most ragged of excuses to throw over his pantomime performance and he led the grand jury to the conclusion he wanted: no trial for Darren Wilson.  That he wanted not to prosecute Darren Wilson has become glaringly obvious from all we know about grand juries and his behavior at this one:
“It looks like he wanted to create the appearance that there had been a public trial when in fact there hadn’t been,” Noah Feldman, who teaches constitutional law at Harvard, said by telephone on Tuesday. The impression that was left, Mr. Feldman added, “was that the prosecutor didn’t want an indictment — and didn’t want to blamed for not getting one.”
However, his excuse has been picked up by various liberal commentors, who tell us, more in sorrow than anger, that the grand jury was never going to indict a police officer. Case in point is Jamelle Bouie, who cites the laws and the court decisions that give a wide latitude to police officers in their use of violence. And of course the FBI stats of 410 justifiable officer caused killings turn up (oddly, the much better statistics kept by the KilledbyPolice organization are never cited in the establishment media. Here the politics of Iraq is reversed – in the latter case, the lower death count that came with merely counting deaths from news items were used, rather than the higher death count derived by normal statistical methods used by a team that published in the Lancet – here, the media count is ignored and the FBI numbers are touted because the FBI numbers are lower).
However, going through the numbers, while an important exercise, shouldn’t lead us to conclude that police officers are never indicted by the grand jury. As a counter-example to Bouie’s thesis, look at a trial that happened just last year in Virginia.
Patricia Cook, 56, of Culpepper Virginia was a Sunday school teacher. She was sitting in her car in the parking lot of a church. This seemed suspicious to police officer Daniel Harmon-Wright. He claimed he approached her and she rolled down the window and he asked for her licence. When she didn't give it he grabbed her wallet, and she rolled up the window and started moving off, dragging him, so he shot her dead with seven shots. Or such was his story. But perhaps because she was a sunday school teacher, white, and Officer Harmon-Wright, because of a drinking problem, had enemies in the department, and perhaps because his mother, who was secretary to the chief, was caught trying to delete negative things from his file - for one reason or another, he was actually prosecuted properly. And although he claimed at his trial that he was just trying to defend the public security, other witnesses said that he never had his hand stuck in the car window and that he ran behind the car and fired his seven shots that way. The upshot was that he was put away for three years. See, it can be done. A, the victim must be a white sunday school teacher, and b., the cop must have enemies in the department. But it can be done.

So remember  Harmon-Wright’s story the next time you read some rightwinger tell you that Michael Brown threatened Darren Wilson’s life. Because in a real trial, that story would be subject to questioning  and, with a real prosecutor, could be largely discredited. Of course, in a real trial, the prosecutor would try to pick a jury that was not predisposed to acquit, as well. 

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