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Policy Brief #1: Permanent Special Prosecutors Office

Context
On November 24 2014, a grand jury decided not to charge Officer Darren Wilson with a crime
for shooting and killing Mike Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri. When
someone is killed, prosecutors usually present the case for why a grand jury should charge the
person responsible. But in this case, they did not recommend specific charges for Officer
Wilson. Instead, prosecutors invited Wilson to present his version of the story for four-hours
without seriously questioning him, challenged witnesses that did not agree with Wilsons
version of the story and even let witnesses testify in support of Wilsons story who were clearly
not credible. The county prosecutor in charge of making these unusual moves, Bob McCulloch,
had close ties to local police his father was a St. Louis policeman who was killed in the line of
duty by a black man and three of his family members were currently serving as St. Louis police
officers. Mike Brown was the fifth person killed by police under McCullochs watch. None of the
officers responsible have even faced a trial.

Problem Statement
Prosecutors can convince grand juries to charge almost anyone, but prosecutors do not
convince grand juries to charge police officers. Instead, prosecutors side with police officers and
can present a one-sided picture to the grand jury in secret. In the past 6 months, grand juries
have not charged police officers for the deaths of at least five unarmed black people: Mike
Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Jordan Baker and Dontre Hamilton.

Policy Overview
Establish a permanent special prosecutors office at the state level to automatically handle all
police killings of civilians.
The key provisions of this policy include:
A permanent special prosecutor is appointed at the state level and equipped with an
office with resources to be able to conduct thorough investigations.
The special prosecutor is required to investigate all police killings of civilians and given
authority to do so.
The special prosecutor is chosen based on input from the community.

Why This Policy?


Local prosecutors rely on police officers to gather the evidence and testimony they need to
successfully prosecute criminals. This makes it hard for them to go after the same police officers
when they commit brutality. A special prosecutor wouldnt be as close with the police officers
they investigate, especially if the prosecutor is picked by the state and not from a nearby
community. Thats why 9 in 10 Americans support using a special prosecutor in cases where
police kill unarmed civilians. And by giving the special prosecutor an office with qualified

Last revised 1.14.15. For more information, please contact @deray or @samswey.

investigators and resources, they can do a full investigation without needing to rely on police
officers to investigate themselves.
To prevent the governor or attorney general from choosing a special prosecutor who unfairly
sides with police officers, this policy would also establish a commission with community
representation that either selects the special prosecutor itself or selects the candidates that the
governor must pick from.

Does This Policy Work?


We need more research that looks specifically at how special prosecutors have done compared
to local prosecutors in cases were police kill civilians. We know, for example, that New York had
a special prosecutors office for police corruption in the 70s and 80s that was successful in
getting police officers convicted before it was eliminated to fund narcotics policing. But even if
the office does bring more police officers to justice, there will still be police who unjustly kill
black people and go free as long as (mostly white) jurors, judges and prosecutors see black
people as threatening and take the word of police over the word of (mostly black) witnesses.

Where Is This Policy Currently Being Implemented?


Connecticut law authorizes a special prosecutor specifically for cases where police kill
someone.
Maryland has a special prosecutors' office for cases involving any public employees,
including police misconduct. New York, Missouri, Colorado, and California are currently
considering similar policies.
Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04) has proposed the Grand Jury Reform Act, H.R. 5830, in
Congress requiring states use special prosecutors in police misconduct cases.

Learn More
How Grand Juries work: http://econ.st/1IvVvDB
How Grand Juries favor police: http://53eig.ht/1FlTLs4
About special prosecutors: http://huff.to/1AyZlak, http://bit.ly/1stWHNy,
http://bv.ms/1DHMOCB

Last revised 1.14.15. For more information, please contact @deray or @samswey.