With Grand Jury Decision in, Legal Focus Turns to Department of Justice; Answer on Civil Rights Investigation Could Come Soon, He Says; FERGUSON TURMOIL: DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

By Raasch, Chuck | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 26, 2014 | Go to article overview

With Grand Jury Decision in, Legal Focus Turns to Department of Justice; Answer on Civil Rights Investigation Could Come Soon, He Says; FERGUSON TURMOIL: DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE


Raasch, Chuck, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


WASHINGTON * With the Ferguson grand jury's decision now in the court of public opinion, the legal focus turns to the U.S. Department of Justice, whose civil rights investigation of Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson faces a "high legal bar" to prosecute, according to Attorney General Eric Holder.

That bar may be higher than that faced by the grand jury, which decided not to indict Wilson in the fatal shooting Aug. 9 of Michael Brown. In a federal civil rights case, prosecutors would have to prove that Wilson intentionally violated Brown's constitutional rights. In the wake of Monday night's decision, Holder hinted that an answer on the civil rights investigation one of a two-pronged federal investigation of the Ferguson shooting could come soon.

Holder said the Ferguson investigation was in a "mature stage."

Late Tuesday, Holder talked briefly about the ongoing Department of Justice investigations.

"The department's investigations will continue to be thorough, they will continue to be independent, and they remain ongoing," Holder said. "They will be conducted rigorously and in a timely manner so we can move forward as expeditiously as we can to restore trust, to rebuild understanding, and to foster cooperation between law enforcement and community members."

Unlike the grand jury, which could have indicted Wilson under several possible state violations, the Department of Justice's civil rights investigation is focused on a single federal statute that, according to the department, "makes it a crime for a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States."

Randolph M. McLaughlin, a professor of law at Pace University and co-chair of the civil rights practice group at the New York law firm Newman Ferrara, said the law had roots in Reconstruction after the Civil War and was aimed at the Ku Klux Klan.

Where Wilson could have been indicted for one of several state charges if the grand jury believed he had acted "recklessly," McLaughlin said, conviction under the federal statute requires proof that Wilson "willfully" deprived Brown of his rights. …

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