With a grand jury decision and a local election looming, the Rev. Al Sharpton returned to St. Louis on Friday to renew calls for the federal prosecution of a white police officer who shot and killed a black 18-year-old in the nearby suburb of Ferguson.
The civil rights activist said leaks about the supposedly secret St. Louis County grand jury deliberations undermine the local inquiry into whether to indict Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s killing. The panel is expected to complete its review by mid-November, independent of U.S. Justice Department investigations into both Brown’s death and the broader practices of the Ferguson department.
Legal analysts have said leaked information about Wilson’s testimony to investigators could be an attempt to prepare the public for the possibility that the grand jury might recommend he not face charges.
“The grand jury is tainted. The confidence of the family has been shattered,” Sharpton said after meeting briefly with Brown’s parents and local activists at a breakfast rally before returning to New York. “We should turn this over to the federal government.”
The federal investigation remains open, but investigators face a tall burden in trying to mount a civil rights prosecution against Wilson. The Justice Department would need to prove that he willfully deprived Brown of his civil rights, a challenging standard, especially because police officers are given wide latitude in their use of force. History shows civil rights prosecutions of police officers are far easier to bring in instances where an officer attacks a handcuffed person, or beats someone already in custody, than in a case involving a fluid, ongoing physical struggle.