- Associated Press - Friday, November 6, 2015

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - The top prosecutor in Memphis took more than two months to review an 800-page investigative report by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on the shooting death of a black teen by a white police officer. Then she recommended that a grand jury charge the policeman with voluntary manslaughter.

In just a few hours, the grand jury brushed aside Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich’s recommendation, clearing Officer Connor Schilling of criminal wrongdoing. Now, lawyers for the family of 19-year-old Darrius Stewart want a special prosecutor to review the report or initiate a new investigation in order to present a new case for charges against the officer to a different grand jury.

Carlos Moore, an attorney for Stewart’s father, Henry Williams, says Weirich’s recommendation to the grand jury to charge Schilling wasn’t strong enough.

“She was too close to the situation … Amy was just going through the motions,” Moore said. “We want the man to face trial.”

Weirich’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Stewart was a passenger in a car stopped by Schilling for a headlight violation on July 17. According to police, Schilling ran Stewart’s identification and found the teen had outstanding warrants from Illinois and Iowa. Schilling had put Stewart in the back of his squad car, without handcuffs, as he checked on the warrants.

Dispatchers then told Schilling that Stewart should be arrested. As the officer approached the back of the squad car to handcuff Stewart, he kicked open the door, grabbed the handcuffs and starting beating the officer with them, according to police.

As they fought on the ground, Schilling fired his service weapon, wounding Stewart. The teen died at a hospital of two gunshot wounds, a medical examiner found.

Stewart’s death, like other high-profile cases nationwide in which unarmed black men were killed by police officers, prompted rallies and vigils. The Memphis rallies were peaceful.

Weirich, who is white, handed over the shooting investigation to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the state police agency. She received the report Aug. 20, asking the community for patience as she reviewed its findings.

On Tuesday, she told reporters about her recommendation to the grand jury to charge Schilling with voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm in the commission of a dangerous felony. The case was presented to the grand jury on Tuesday, and it declined to indict Schilling on the same day, she said.

“As difficult as this news will be for the community to receive, I think what has to be stressed is the process worked, the system worked, our criminal justice system worked the way it was designed,” Weirich said. “There was an independent investigation, there was an independent review of that investigation, and there was an independent presentation and decision on that work.”

Weirich’s office then released information about how grand juries are assembled. They are made up of 12 members, five alternates and a foreman, all selected by an administrative judge of the Criminal Court. The foreman serves two years while other members serve two months. Weirich said the case could be presented to a grand jury a second time if new evidence were to emerge.

Meanwhile, some black community leaders suggested the grand jury had rushed the decision.

“Something smells bad with our justice system,” Noel Hutchinson, pastor at First Baptist Church, Lauderdale, said during a news conference Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, has said he would like to see the case handled by an independent prosecutor not from Shelby County. Cohen also has reached out to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to ask for help in determining whether any civil rights have been violated.

Stewart’s family has echoed those calls. They also want Schilling, who faces an administrative hearing as early as next week, to resign or be fired.

Schilling’s lawyer, Art Quinn, said Wednesday that the officer was just doing his job in trying to arrest Stewart and did nothing wrong. Quinn said he does not fear a federal investigation.

Weirich has petitioned Chancery Court for release of the TBI report. That would depart from normal protocol, because the agency’s case files are confidential under state law, and the bureau typically does not release details of ongoing investigations.

Moore said he wants the Stewart family to see the report before it is released to the public because it may contain personal details about their son.

“We believe the report will contain information about the last moments of their son’s life,” Moore said. “The family deserves a minutia of respect.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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