Will Darren Wilson face federal civil rights charges for the death of Michael Brown?
That’s a question Justice Department investigators have been weighing for months. And according to a New York Times report, they could be close to an answer.
Citing anonymous law enforcement officials, the newspaper reported Wednesday that the Justice Department has started work on a legal memo recommending no civil rights charges for Wilson, who killed Brown in August. A grand jury decided not to indict him on state charges in November.
Attorney General Eric Holder and his top civil rights prosecutor have yet to “formally make a decision,” the newspaper said.
Another Justice Department civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department is ongoing.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown’s family, declined to comment on the New York Times report.
“The family of Michael Brown, Jr. will wait for official word from the Justice Department regarding whether or not any charges will be filed against the police officer who shot and killed him,” Crump said in a written statement released Wednesday. “The family won’t address speculation from anonymous sources.”
Months of protests over alleged police brutality and racial profiling surged in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country after Wilson, a white officer, killing Brown, an unarmed African-American teen.
Legal experts have long noted that a federal civil rights case against Wilson would be more difficult to prove.
“The bar is extraordinarily high,” said Joey Jackson, a criminal defense attorney and legal analyst for CNN’s sister network HLN. “You have to show an intentional deprivation of a civil right.”
Given how difficult it is to prove intent, and also how many conflicting accounts emerged from the grand jury investigation, “it would be very difficult to move forward federally with a civil rights charge,” Jackson said.
If no federal charges are brought against Wilson, who resigned from his position as a Ferguson Police officer in November, some people in the area will be disappointed, said Antonio French, a St. Louis City Alderman who lives near Ferguson.
“I think you have a lot of people who will be disappointed if this does turn out to be the case. The community and the family wanted a day in court, an opportunity to see all the evidence laid out, cross-examined,” French said. “And it looks like that’s not going to happen. I hope we don’t have any violence as a result of this.”
Violent protests erupted in Ferguson after the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson in November. Police are still searching for suspects accused of looting.
Protests aren’t likely to stop any time soon, French said.
“People have a right to protest. We will probably continue to see that. That’s a good thing. But we want to keep them peaceful, nonviolent,” he said. “Because violence makes the situation worse. It divides the community in a time we need to come together and make everyone feel like they can get equal protection.”
Ultimately, he said, some of protesters’ goals can be achieved outside the courts.
“The next steps I think are legislative change,” French said, “trying to make sure that in cases like this we get a special prosecutor by law, and to create a new level of civilian oversight over police departments.”