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Could St. Louis Cty. Prosecutor Be Impartial On Ferguson?

Critics say Robert McCulloch's personal history would keep him from being impartial if he prosecuted the Michael Brown case.
Posted at 10:03 AM, Aug 21, 2014

The decision on whether to file charges against the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown has proven just as large a rallying cry for protesters as the shooting itself.

​But the man in charge of making that decision hasn't exactly received a vote of confidence from his community, some of his fellow elected officials or the man who could remove him from the case.

As a grand jury convened to hear evidence in Brown's killing, protesters gathered outside Bob McCulloch's offices calling for the longtime local prosecutor to recuse himself from the case.

MISSOURI STATE SEN. JAMILAH NASHEED (D) ON CNN: "The people of the African-American community do not have the confidence that you will be fair and impartial."

But protesters' distrust of McCulloch in this case doesn't stem from basic race questions of a white prosecutor making decisions over the shooting of a black teenager.

McCulloch's father, Paul, was gunned down by a black kidnapping suspect in 1964 while he and other St. Louis police officers tried to chase the suspect down. Bob McCulloch was only 12 at the time.

Many St. Louis residents remember his 2001 decision not to prosecute two officers who fired 21 shots, killing two unarmed black suspects the officers said tried to run them over with a car.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN REPORTER: "McCulloch made this controversial statement at the time."

MCCULLOCH: "It's what I said then. I think ... I thought they were bums then. I think they're bums now."

But for the most part, the man who could decide someone else should prosecute the case — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon — has punted.

In a statement released Tuesday, Nixon wrote he would not remove McCulloch, arguing the governor inserting himself into that decision could undermine the case.

 

But, "There is a well-established process by which a prosecutor can recuse themselves from a pending investigation, and a special prosecutor be appointed."

Some pundits quickly speculated this was a case of the major decision-makers being part of the same political party and not wanting to step on each other's toes.

But that doesn't quite add up. McCulloch has a track record of not supporting candidates based on party line alone, and the governor's seemingly ambivalent announcement did not go over well with McCulloch and even some of McCulloch's critics.

MCCULLOCH ON KTRS: "We're losing focus of why we're all here. We want to get to work. We want to get started. ... All he has to say is, 'No, I'm not removing McCulloch. Yes, I am removing McCulloch.' But get it done."

MISSOURI STATE SEN. MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL (D) ON MSNBC: "I actually agree with Bob McCulloch. What this is is a case of the governor playing cat-and-mouse. He does not want to accept responsibility."

​As of Thursday morning, an online petition calling for a special prosecutor in Brown's killing was nearing 75,000 signatures.

McCulloch told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week it may take prosecutors until mid-October to present all of the evidence over whether to indict the officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson.

Meanwhile, officials hope protests over the unarmed teen's killing have finally calmed down. After more than a week of protests that turned violent and accusations of heavy-handed police responses, supervisors announced early Thursday morning they'd completed the second straight night without deploying tear gas.

This video contains images from Getty Images.