Last chance for justice: Why Mike Brown’s parents are filing a civil suit against Ferguson

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The family of Michael Brown, the black teen who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., is set to file a wrongful death civil lawsuit against the city.


The lawsuit would be the final legal recourse the family has in its battle to hold authorities accountable for the death of Brown, whose shooting in August of last year sparked protests across the nation, drawing international attention.

The burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is much lower, making the likelihood of success far more likely than a criminal prosecution. In a civil suit, the prosecution has to show a "preponderance of the evidence" that what it is charging is true. In a criminal case, the burden is "beyond a reasonable doubt."


That's why so many other high profile deaths fail to see convictions in criminal trials, but succeed in civil trials. The O.J. Simpson case, for example, fell under this model.

Wrongful death suits stemming from police-involved deaths often settle for payment before reaching a verdict. Just yesterday, for example, police in Fairfax, Va. settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $2.95 million. That case also involved the killing an unarmed man by police.

The Brown family will likely seek monetary damages.

One key piece of evidence the prosecution is likely use in making their case is the Department of Justice's scathing report on the Ferguson Police Department, which was released last month. That report found a pattern of racial bias and use of force against black men in the community.


In November, a grand jury decided it would not press charges against Officer Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, for the incident. A federal civil rights investigation into the shooting, led by the Department of Justice, also failed to find enough evidence to press charges against the officer, who claimed he was acting in self-defense.

"This matter lacks prosecutive merit and should be closed," reads the report.

Brown's family and its attorneys are not convinced. When the grand jury declined to charge Wilson for the shooting, attorney Daryl Sparks said: "They have accepted (Wilson's) self-defense…We do not accept his self-defense."


Related: Watch Fusion's Ferguson documentary: A Report from Occupied Territory.

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.

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