Wednesday, the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that it had rejected the claim that that Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, had his hands up and was surrendering to police when Officer Darren Wilson shot him dead on August 9, 2014. The death of Michael Brown, who was shot shortly after robbing a convenience store, sparked violent protests and riots last summer in Ferguson, Mo.
The DoJ began its investigation into the killing of Michael Brown two days after his death. The feds worked independently of the Missouri authorities, yet cooperatively and in tandem with them; and the feds examined the same evidence and interviewed the same witnesses.
When it comes to these types of investigations the feds have numerous standards that govern their decisions to prosecute. Those standards come down to two -- rather obvious -- questions.
First, was a federal crime committed; and second, does the government possess sufficient credible evidence to obtain a conviction. The DoJ has answered both questions in the negative.
In Ferguson, the Justice Department interviewed all the witnesses it could find; including the men and women who came before the grand jury. It concluded that Brown attempted to seize control of Officer Wilson’s service gun, Wilson was justifiably in fear for his life, and as a result of Brown’s behavior and Wilson’s fear, Wilson’s use of deadly force was justified; thus, no federal crime was committed. The alleged crime is the use of State sanctioned force -- here, Wilson’s service gun -- to deprive Brown of a federally protected right -- here, the right to life and to be at liberty.
The Justice Department found that Brown was hit by six service-issued bullets, and all the bullets entered his body from the front. It also found that the witnesses who claimed Brown raised his hands in surrender or shouted “don’t shoot” were not credible witnesses, and so it disbelieved them. It discounted their credibility because they gave varying versions of what they claimed to have seen, many of which were contradictory to other versions the same folks had given, and because their hands up or “don’t shoot” versions of Brown’s death were strongly contradicted by medical and ballistics evidence and could never have survived cross examination.
The DoJ also issued a scathing report on the culture and practices of the largely white police force and municipal court system in the largely black town of Ferguson. It found that police and clerks regularly, consistently, and systematically used race as a basis for prosecutions and the imposition of onerous fines; that they used criminal prosecutions not to assure public safety, but as a revenue stream; and that this unlawful behavior has been rampant for many years. This is utterly in violation of federal law, which the DoJ is duty-bound to enforce.
It is hard to believe that things have been this bad for so long, yet unknown to the feds until Michael Brown was killed. The DoJ should sue Ferguson, and air all this out in a public courtroom in front of a local jury; as the people have a right to know what the government is doing and has been doing in their names. And the people are entitled to the popular mechanisms -- a jury trial -- by which to hold a lawless local government accountable.
The feds issued two reports. Each is in excess of 100 pages, single spaced. Bottom line: Both reports are thorough, professional, and, most importantly, credible.
Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel.