- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A county judge correctly dismissed a lawsuit by activists who sought an independent probe of a prosecutor’s handling of grand jury proceedings in the Ferguson police shooting of Michael Brown, a Missouri appellate court has ruled.

A three-judge Missouri Court of Appeals panel in St. Louis found last week that St. Louis County Circuit Judge Joseph Walsh III was “well within his discretion” in deciding last year not to appoint a special prosecutor to scrutinize county prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s conduct during the secret grand jury proceedings.

Four activists had sued for the outside review, questioning McCulloch’s role involving the grand jury that in November 2014 cleared white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death three months earlier of 18-year-old Brown, who was black and unarmed. Wilson later resigned, and a U.S. Justice Department probe went on to conclude Wilson acted in self-defense.

The grand jury decision touched off sometimes-violent Ferguson protests similar to the unrest that erupted in the St. Louis suburb immediately after Brown’s death.

Maggie Ellinger-Locke, an attorney for the activists, had argued that the grand jury decision was inappropriately influenced by McCulloch, whom she insisted “put his thumb on the scale” in Wilson’s favor. Last week’s appellate ruling, written by Judge Roy Richter, found otherwise.

McCulloch “performed his duty the best way he saw fit, and the grand jury ultimately decided not to return an indictment,” Richter wrote. “It is not a failure of (McCulloch’s) duty as a prosecutor to not secure an indictment in every case.”

Walsh, in tossing out the lawsuit in July of last year, concluded in a 10-page ruling that the activists’ request was “not only logically flawed but contrary to the principles of our criminal justice system.” Walsh said he reached “the inescapable conclusion” that McCulloch “faithfully performed his duty” in connection with the grand jury, “even though some other person may have made the presentation to the grand jury in a different manner.”

Ellinger-Locke said Thursday she anticipates challenging last week’s ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court.

“We’re disappointed but eager to move on to the next stage of litigation,” she told The Associated Press by phone, declining to discuss the appellate court’s findings. “We’ll make our feelings known in the brief we file.”

Walsh has said during hearings over the lawsuit that McCulloch had assistant prosecutors run the grand jury proceedings and “wasn’t the one asking the questions.” The judge also pointed to the Justice Department probe that cleared Wilson, though the federal agency did release a scathing report that cited racial bias and racial profiling in Ferguson policing and in a profit-driven municipal court system that frequently targeted blacks.

“The Department of Justice doesn’t take issue with anything that was done (during the grand jury process), and they came to the very same conclusion” as the grand jury, Walsh said during a hearing.



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