The final weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday passed without a grand jury decision on whether to indict a Ferguson police officer, fueling new speculation about the timing as protesters demand justice for Michael Brown.
After meeting Friday but apparently not reaching a decision, the grand jury was widely expected to reconvene on Monday to consider possible charges against Darren Wilson, the white suburban St. Louis officer who fatally shot the black 18-year-old after a confrontation in August. There was no official confirmation about when the grand jury would meet again.
Protesting on Sunday night, Reggie Cunningham said he doubted Wilson will be indicted and it seemed authorities were delaying an announcement “to spin this in the most positive way possible.”
“The more that they drag this out, the angrier people are going to be,” said Cunningham, 30, of St. Louis.
The shooting triggered riots and looting, and police responded with armored vehicles and tear gas. Many in the area thought a grand jury decision on whether to charge Wilson with a crime would be announced Sunday, based partly on a stepped-up police presence in the preceding days, including the setting up of barricades around the building where the panel was meeting.
Downtown STL Inc., a St. Louis civic group that promotes downtown businesses, told members in an email Saturday that the grand jury will reconvene Monday to continue deliberating. The email did not explain how the group knew that, and St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s office has not commented on the grand jury’s schedule.
McCulloch has said he expected a grand jury decision by mid-to-late November, and it’ll be up to him to publicize it. But that’s not ultimately in his control. The 12-person grand jury deliberates in secret, without McCulloch, and sets its own schedule depending upon when the members are available.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown’s family, said they are frustrated the prosecutor didn’t charge Wilson himself, or at least suggest a charge to grand jurors.
As it is, “you don’t have any direction, you’re just putting all the evidence out there and you’re going to let them figure it out and they can make up their own minds,” Crump said. “You know, it just boggles the mind why he thinks this is fair.”
If jurors meet Monday, there is no guarantee they will reach a decision that day, or even this week.
It’s not uncommon for deliberations to take a while in complex cases when, such as in the Brown shooting, self-defense is alleged or there are two widely conflicting versions of events, said Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson, who is not involved in the Ferguson case.
“In the course of their deliberations, if one grand juror convinces the others that ‘Look, we need to hear from an additional witness,’ and they all agree, the prosecutor’s got a duty to bring that witness in,” Richardson said.
Sunday would have been an opportune time to minimize disruptions from protests, since schools and governments are planning on only a partial work week because of Thanksgiving, said Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He said Monday or Tuesday would still make sense.
But “my belief is that with the holiday, releasing it on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday would produce a negative reaction,” Joy said.
During church services, some pastors encouraged their flocks not to fret.
A choir sang, “We need you Lord right now” at the predominantly black Greater Grace Church in Ferguson. The pastor, Bishop L.O. Jones, referred to the pending grand jury decision briefly.
“Everybody stand to your feet and tell somebody, ‘Don’t be afraid. God is still in control,'” Jones said as church members repeated after him.
The Rev. Freddy Clark of Shalom Church in nearby Florissant told the mostly black interdenominational congregation that “justice will be served” whichever way the decision goes, because God will take care of it.
“None of us are pleased about what happened,” said parishioner James Tatum. “Whatever the verdict is, we have to understand that’s the verdict.”
As they wait, some people have continued daily protests, while speculation has grown that the delays are intentional.
“People feel like it’s been engineered, so that the results wouldn’t come out until after the election and until the weather got cold, and it would be more difficult to protest,” said Susan McGraugh, supervisor of the Criminal Defense Clinic at the Saint Louis University School of Law. “It’s really adding fuel to the fire.”
Lieb reported from Jefferson City. Associated Press reporter Alex Sanz contributed to this report from St. Louis. Follow David A. Lieb at: https://twitter.com/DavidALieb
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