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Michael Brown update: Keeping our eyes on the ball

While there has been some discussion about the issues that are being debated on Capitol Hill, other important issues are being lost in the shuffle

Photo: KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

Attorney Joe Richardson reviews notable new developments regarding the killing of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri

The news has been filled with headlines related to the new president of the United States, with as many related to his outrageous statements as his political positions. From Jan. 20 on, we have been bombarded with “issues” such as the number of people that attended the inauguration, Mr. Trump’s claims that his predecessor wiretapped him, and revelations pertaining to meetings between Trump surrogates and the Russians during the campaign transition.

While there has been some discussion about the issues that are being debated on Capitol Hill (i.e., travel ban, health care), other important issues are being lost in the shuffle. Case in point: police and community relations.

Recently, there have been notable developments regarding the killing of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014.

First, in the civil lawsuit brought by Brown’s family, Wilson admitted in discovery that Brown never tried to remove his gun from its holster. This seems to be in direct conflict with claims made by Wilson in the investigation following the shooting that he and Brown battled for control of the gun after Brown reached for it during a physical altercation.

It was this contention that bolstered Wilson’s claim that he was in fear of imminent danger and therefore justified in shooting Brown. Following an unusual grand jury proceeding which featured the St. Louis County district attorney essentially making the case for Wilson’s innocence and the grand jury being given contrary instructions, Wilson was not indicted for the shooting.

In another development related to the case, a filmmaker released a documentary with previously unseen video footage that puts Brown’s activities, prior to his death, in a new light.

Specifically, 11 hours prior to his shooting, the video shows Brown exchanging what appears to be a bag of marijuana for a box of cigarillos with store clerks. Moments later he gives the box to the clerks before leaving the store. Then, in the video that the police publicized, Brown appears to get into a scuffle over the cigarillos with clerk in the same store 11 hours later, moments before he was shot by Wilson.

The latter video footage was used by police and the district attorney to paint Brown as a dangerous man who had just robbed the store, further justifying his shooting. However, the earlier video added context to the relationship between Brown and the store clerks. Commenting on the unseen video footage after the documentary premiered, St. Louis County police stated that they deemed the additional footage irrelevant to the case and therefore did not reveal it.

Years after the fact, we receive further information that yet again objectively gives ample reason for the feelings of mistrust between people of color and law enforcement. There is no question that the facts above are relevant, as they could have given the grand jury further insight into both Brown’s and Wilson’s intentions, which connect to the legal standards in the case. At the least, the revelation of those facts lends to the much needed transparency that communities of color believe is lacking.

These developments should continue to fuel the discussion about police and community relations; i.e., how investigations surrounding police shootings can be skewed to exonerate the officer and put their conduct in the best light, perhaps at the expense of the truth.

The killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and others ensured that these necessary conversations continued through last year’s election. Since President Trump took office, preoccupation with antics in Washington threatens to simmer needed dialogue on many other important issues, not the least of which is fostering understanding between law enforcement and communities of color.

While members of the media scratch their heads figuring out what the president means when he makes a clear (even if false) statement, officers (many well-intentioned) continue to police citizens in tense circumstances. The debate surrounding immigration adds yet another layer to the already complex area of police and community relations. Because the leanings of the president and U.S. attorney general signal less sensitivity to these issues, these discussions must continue, and even intensify.

In short, we must keep our eyes on the ball.

Joe Richardson, Esq. is a native son of South-Central Los Angeles, and an attorney practicing tort, contract, and labor, and employment law in Southern California for more than 15 years. He also teaches and speaks on legal issues.

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