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McCulloch’s Process Guarantees No Indictment

November 5, 2014 Ferguson 31 Comments

Within the first 24 hours of last week’s poll it was clear it had been hijacked by trolls, skewing the results.  The vote count in a day was more than I usually see for the full week. I waited until Tuesday afternoon then decided to remove the poll from the blog. Here are the results when I closed/pulled the poll:

Q: Rate Prosecutor McCulloch’s Handling of the case of Darren Wilson Killing Michael Brown so far

  1. 5: Excellent 126 [70%]
  2. 1: Poor 25 [13.89%]
  3. Unsure/no answer 12 [6.67%]
  4. 4: Very Good 8 [4.44%]
  5. 2: Fair 6 [3.33%]
  6. 3: Good 3 [1.67%]

The “poor” was way ahead Sunday night, the next morning “excellent” was way out front. Eventually I’ll learn to not do polls that encourage sides to rally their troops to skew the results.

As far as McCulloch’s preformance, I voted “fair.” I agree with this article:

McCulloch’s decision to present every piece of evidence to the grand jury is a delay tactic, which in my experience overwhelms the grand jury and usually ends up with a vote not to indict. Keep in mind, this is just a “probable cause” hearing – the grand jury is not determining “guilt or innocence,” which happens at the actual trial. The grand jury doesn’t really need every piece of evidence to determine “probable cause.” (Bob McCulloch’s grand jury charade: County Prosecutor shows how to not get an indictment)

Charade is the right word. If McCulloch wanted an indictment he’d have handled the case differently, this has been an elaborate act to give the appearance of due diligence while guaranteeing no indictment.

— Steve Patterson


Poll: Rate Prosecutor McCulloch’s Handling of the Case of Darren Wilson Killing Michael Brown

Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar
Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar

It has been nearly three months since Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown. Despite community calls for a special prosecutor, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch has handled the case. It’s important to understand how the law works:

How Does a Grand Jury Differ from a Preliminary Hearing?

While all states have provisions in their laws that allow for grand juries, roughly half of the states don’t use them. Courts often use preliminary hearings prior to criminal trials, instead of grand juries, which are adversarial in nature. As with grand juries, preliminary hearings are meant to determine whether there is enough evidence, or probable cause, to indict a criminal suspect.

Unlike a grand jury, a preliminary hearing is usually open to the public and involves lawyers and a judge (not so with grand juries, other than the prosecutor). Sometimes, a preliminary hearing proceeds a grand jury. One of the biggest differences between the two is the requirement that a defendant request a preliminary hearing, although the court may decline a request.
Grand Jury Proceedings

Grand jury proceedings are much more relaxed than normal court room proceedings. There is no judge present and frequently there are no lawyers except for the prosecutor. The prosecutor will explain the law to the jury and work with them to gather evidence and hear testimony. Under normal courtroom rules of evidence, exhibits and other testimony must adhere to strict rules before admission. However, a grand jury has broad power to see and hear almost anything they would like.

However, unlike the vast majority of trials, grand jury proceedings are kept in strict confidence. This serves two purposes:

It encourages witnesses to speak freely and without fear of retaliation.
It protects the potential defendant’s reputation in case the jury does not decide to indict. (FindLaw)

And “probable cause”?

Probable cause refers to the amount and quality of information required to arrest someone, to search or seize private property in many cases, or to charge someone with a crime. (FindLaw)

From last month:

The prosecutor’s office is also presenting evidence to the grand jury as soon as it receives it, rather than waiting until the St. Louis County Police Department and the FBI have completed their investigations. Police probes are typically completed before a case is presented to a grand jury, county officials said.

As a result, jurors in the Wilson case are hearing from every eyewitness, seeing every telling photo, viewing every relevant video, and reviewing all DNA, ballistics and other test results from county and FBI labs, said Ed Magee, a spokesman for county prosecutor Robert McCulloch. They will hear testimony from Dorian Johnson, the friend who was with Brown when he died, but it is unclear yet whether they will hear testimony from Wilson.

“Normally they hear from a detective or a main witness or two. That’s it,” Magee said. “This gives us an opportunity to present all of the evidence to jurors who represent St. Louis County. They will make the decision.” (In atypical approach, grand jury in Ferguson shooting receives full measure of case)

I don’t want to sway readers one way or another before they get a chance to take the poll this week. rating McCulloch’s handling of the case. The poll is in the right sidebar.

— Steve Patterson


The St. Louis County Municipal Court Racket

Since Michael Brown was shot & killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9th, the entire country has learned a dirty little secret: some of our municipalities make big money ticketing & arresting our residents, often minorities. Just as corporations that operate  for-profit prisons seek more prisoners, some of the 90 unsustainable municipalities within St. Louis County need to stop people driving through their tiny municipal borders to keep the municipal coffers full:

Unfortunately, for many of the poorest citizens of the region, the municipal courts and police departments inflict a kind of low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay without a meaningful inquiry into whether an individual has the means to pay. (ArchCity Defenders: Municipal Courts White Paper)

I recommend reading all 37 pages of the ArchCity Defenders: Municipal Courts White Paper, it’s an eye-opener! They looked at 60 courts and found “approximately thirty of those courts did engage in at least one of these [illegal and harmful] practices.” The report focuses on the three “chronic offenders”: Bel-Ridge, Florissant, and…Ferguson.

A personal friend has two citations from Vinita Park, population 1880, but the fine amounts aren’t on the citations he was issued. Neither of his citations were for speeding.

The fine amount doesn't appear on the citation, note is it online. Nobody at the company in Georgia knows the fine amounts either.
The fine amount doesn’t appear on the citation, note is it online. Nobody at the company in Georgia knows the fine amounts either. You’ve got to show up in court or call to get the amount to pay.

Logging online and entering your citation number doesn’t bring up the fine amount either, you must know it to enter and pay it. Late fees, of an unknown amount, are added. A bench warrant is issued if you miss the court date.  My friend finally reached a person by phone at Vinita Park City Hall that could tell him the amounts. Earlier calls went unanswered.

Yesterday I posted about the Flordell Hills, pop 822, city website which doesn’t list the elected officials, but has a detailed court section accepting online payments.  Their new police force begins October 1st.

More affluent municipalities, such as Chesterfield, don’t need to use such tactics to survive financially.  Their residents & visitors would never tolerate the injustices.

The poor in the region live in or drive through these predatory municipalities daily. Ferguson is taking steps toward change.

— Steve Patterson


East-West Gateway’s ‘Great Streets’ Examined W. Florissant In Jennings, Ferguson, & Dellwood

Looking South on W. Florissant in Dellwood, MO
Looking South on W. Florissant in Dellwood, MO

A reader comment on West Florissant Ave Part 2: QuikTrip to Chambers Rd alerted me to the fact the Great Streets Initiative, through the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, had recently looked at West Florissant:

Vision Statement:
The Vision for West Florissant Avenue comes from community and stakeholder input received through multi-faceted outreach efforts. These have included public workshops and virtual walking tours, interviews with community leaders, input from the Community Committee and Technical Advisory Committee, an Agency workshop, and an online survey and mapping tool. The Vision Statement has distilled this community and stakeholder input, with the most significant community values expressed as how the corridor should look, feel, and contribute to the community’s future. 

Project Area:
The West Florissant Avenue Great Streets Project area is located in North St. Louis County, within the cities of Ferguson and Dellwood (Map 1.1). The Project area extends for approximately 2.6 miles, beginning at I-270 in the north and continuing to the East-West rail line at Emerson Electric headquarters and Buzz Westfall Plaza in the south (Maps 1.2 and 1.3; note change in map orientation). Th e Project area includes parcels that front the corridor, plus additional parcels along the key intersecting streets of Pershall Road and Chambers Road. Th e street corridor itself is owned and maintained by St. Louis County. Th e Project area parcels are about evenly divided between the cities of Ferguson and Dellwood; a few parcels also fall within Jennings city limits at the southeast end of the corridor. Several key landmarks and retail centers are located within or near the Project area. Dellwood City Hall is near the intersection of West Florissant Avenue and Chambers Road. The Project area also includes Dellwood Park and Dellwood Recreation Center. St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley Campus is just outside the northwest end. In addition to these landmarks, there are 160 acres of open space or park within one mile of the Project area, including open space associated with Maline Creek. A major shopping center is at the northern end of the corridor, with access to I-270. Just outside the southern end of the Project area, Buzz Westfall Plaza is another major retail center. The West Florissant Avenue corridor has been designed primarily to serve motorized vehicles, which is reinforced by the direct access to and from I-270 the road provides. The corridor is served by Metro Transit bus route #74, one of the most heavily-used lines in the system, and a future transit center is planned for Pershall Road in the northeast part of the Project area; its estimated completion date is in 2015. While sidewalks are present, many other pedestrian amenities are not, and the corridor is not pedestrian-friendly. The corridor currently does not have designated bicycle facilities, and is little used by bicyclists. As communities take an increasingly holistic view of streets and incorporate more of these Great Streets principles, our streets will serve multiple functions and become better places.

The supporting documents are on their West Florissant page, I’ve uploaded each to Scribd for quick reference:

The collection of the above can be viewed here.

I hope to dig into these documents soon, but I’m happy to know so much effort has already gone into planning for a better W. Florissant!

— Steve Patterson


Perfect Location For Centene’s New Ferguson Claims Center

Earlier this week one local company stepped up to invest in Ferguson:

Centene Corp. has selected Ferguson, the site of unrest for more than three weeks following the police shooting of Michael Brown, as the location for a new claims processing facility, with plans to bring up to 200 jobs to the city. The unrest following Brown’s death prompted Centene to select the city for the expansion. (stltoday)

This is potentially great news! I say potentially because most major call centers fit perfectly in an exurban office park; generic building sounded by massive surface parking lots, all fenced in. Ferguson needs these jobs, but it needs them in an engaged environment. Where? What would it look like? The where is quite simple: Emerson owns the perfect site on the SW corner of W. Florissant & Ferguson Ave., 9001 W. Florissant Ave.

This corner is 7+ acres
This corner is 7+ acres
Looking north from an adjacent Ameren substation
Looking north from an adjacent Ameren substation, the Ferguson Market is in the background
Looking north from in front of the Ameren substation
Looking north from in front of the Ameren substation
Looking south from Ferguson Ave
Looking south from Ferguson Ave
Map of the site consisting of two parcels, both owned by Emerson
Map of the site consisting of two parcels, both owned by Emerson, right of the purple line is Jennings

I’m not sure why Emerson bought this property, likely to raze the structure that was on the site as of 1971. Having a neighbor like Centene could be beneficial to Emerson, more workers means more lunch places. Hopefully Emerson would be willing to sell to Centene, or partner on a project to develop the site. And build what?

What they shouldn't build is a building surrounded by parking
What they shouldn’t build is a building in the center surrounded by parking
Instead, the building should be pushed out to the corner so pedestrians can easily reach the entrances.
Instead, the building should be pushed out to the corner so pedestrians can easily reach the entrance(s).

Ideally the building would be at least two floors, with the first floor for retail. I’d like to see a St. Louis Bread Co (aka Panera*) or Chronicle Coffee on the corner. This would provide additional jobs and more places for these 200 employees and those who work in the area to get breakfast, lunch & dinner. Nearby locally-owned places like Ferguson Burger Bar & More would also benefit. Parking can be located behind the building. If Centene doesn’t need this much space the site could be planned for more than one building facing W. Florissant.  * Disclosure: I have a handful of Panera stock

If Ameren built a new substation at the back corner, an auto entrance could be created at the traffic signal at Solway Ave.

A project at this corner could be a great way to implement East West Gateway’s Great Street master plan for W. Florissant!

— Steve Patterson