The police shooting in August 2014 affected the months of riots in Ferguson, Missouri and made the suburbs of St. Louis. Louis as synonymous with a national debate on the police treatment of minorities. The riots in Ferguson helped strengthen the national Lives Matter movement that began after Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black man, was shot dead in Florida in 2012.
The affair has taken on new life since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May after a white police officer pressed his knee to the neck of the Black man handcuffed for nearly eight minutes. Ferguson is among the cities around the world that has seen protests since Floyd̵7;s death.
Bell – who took office in January 2019 as a reform-minded prosecutor promising to eliminate bribery of perpetrators of violence and increase the use of programs that allow defendants to avoid jail time – did not face any restriction on reviewing Brown’s death on possible murder charges. Wilson was never charged and tried, so double risk was not a problem. There is no statute of limitations for filing murder charges.
The shooting happened after Wilson told Brown and a friend to get off the road as they walked through Canfield Drive one Sunday afternoon. A scuffle between Wilson and Brown ensued, ending in fatal shooting. Wilson said Brown came to him in the wrong way, forcing him to fire his weapon in self-defense.
Brown’s body remained on the street for four hours, angering his family and nearby residents. Some people initially said Brown had his hands in hand when Wilson was fired, though a large jury and the U.S. Department of Justice did not find those accounts credible.
Bell’s predecessor, longtime prosecutor Bob McCulloch, drew considerable criticism for taking the case to a grand jury rather than accusing Wilson himself. Critics also accused McCulloch of rocking the grand jury over her decision not to sue Wilson – an accusation he resolutely denied. Wilson resigned days after McCulloch’s November 24, 2014, announcement that the grand jury would not sue the officer.
The Justice Department also declined to charge Wilson, but issued a fraud report citing racial bias in Ferguson police and courts.
Bell, a former Ferguson adviser, upset McCulloch, an established prosecutor and rule of law, in Democratic Elementary 2018 and came out unprepared that November. Within days of taking office, Bell took steps to remove three veteran assistant prosecutors, including Kathi Alizadeh, who played a role in presenting evidence to the grand jury in the Ferguson case.
In his campaign to uncover McCulloch, Bell focused on larger criminal justice issues, not McCulloch’s treatment of the Wilson investigation.
Bell, who, like McCulloch, is the son of a police officer, said in a post-election interview that he would appoint independent special prosecutors on charges of misconduct by officers. He said he would support the police “200%” as long as they act properly. But he said officers who break the law should be held accountable.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, urged Republican Gov. Mike Parson to reopen the investigation in 2018, saying Bell’s victory was “a clear mandate from the people of St. Louis to reform the criminal justice system, which initially begins with the provision of justice for my son. “But Parson’s office said it had no legal authority to appoint a special prosecutor.
Calls to reopen the Brown investigation also came from Justin Hansford, executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Center for Civil Rights. In an August 2019 election to the Washington Post, he called the McCulloch ouster “a sign of hope and change.