Prosecutor who announced grand-jury decision slammed as 'embarrassing,' 'tone deaf'

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

At times Monday night, it was easy to forget that Robert McCulloch was the prosecutor and not the defense attorney.

"There is no question of course that Darren Wilson caused the death of Michael Brown by shooting him," McCulloch said, minutes into a press conference during which he announced that a grand jury had not returned an indictment against officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown.

"But the inquiry doesn't end there."

Media and court observers were bewildered by what they called a bizarre and even "embarrassing" press conference from McCulloch (D), the St. Louis County prosecutor who is a controversial figure in the area because of his perceived close ties to police. McCulloch rambled at points, repeatedly blaming the press and social media for fanning the flames of racial tension surrounding the case. He lashed out at news outlets for several moments before revealing the decision of the grand jury.


"The most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something — for anything — to talk about, following closely behind with the non-stop rumors on social media," McCulloch said.

He was nearly 10 minutes into his press conference before he finally got to the news — that the grand jury decided to not indict Wilson, 28, in the shooting of Brown.

Appearing on CNN after the press conference, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin termed McCulloch's opening an "extended whine" and called it "embarrassing."

"The first part was an extended whine and complain about the news media and social media, which I thought was entirely inappropriate and embarrassing and just really undignified, given the circumstances," Toobin said.


And the timing — the press conference did not start until about 8:30 p.m. CT — was questioned by those who wondered if an afternoon announcement would have helped to mitigate the protests that raged throughout the night in Ferguson, Missouri.

At least 61 people were arrested during the night of protest that followed, according to Reuters. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the night was "worse" in scope than the chaotic nights of protests in August that immediately followed Brown's death.


"The timing was poorly though out and curious," said Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, the non-partisan civil rights organization founded in 1910.

As legal analysts pointed out throughout the night, it is extremely rare for prosecutors to come away from grand jury deliberations without returning an indictment — except in cases that involve police.


FiveThirtyEight's Ben Casselman notes that U.S. prosecutors pursued about 162,000 cases in 2010, the last year for which data is publicly available. Grand juries did not return an indictment in just 11 of those cases.

This specific case is a bit different — it's at the state, and not federal, level. But other research from Bowling Green State University's Philip Stinson suggests on-duty officers rarely get charged in cases of fatal shootings.


But perhaps the most tone-deaf moment of his press conference came when, defending the grand jury's work and ultimate decision, McCulloch said the grand jurors "gave up their lives" to work on the case.

More than a few observers on Twitter went on to point out that, of course, the case he was discussing involved the actual loss of life of an 18-year-old:



Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.

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