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As expected, the family of Michael Brown filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Ferguson, Missouri, its former police chief, and former police officer Darren Wilson.
Brown was killed by Wilson in an altercation last year, which began the most recent national conversation about young black men being shot by white police officers. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson for Brown's death, leading to accusations that the prosecution stacked the evidence in Wilson's favor, and then to protests in Ferguson and elsewhere.
A History of Discrimination
The wrongful death complaint repeats much of the information we've learned since the Brown shooting, including the results of a Department of Justice investigation into the Ferguson Police Department. While the DOJ report didn't find Wilson, specifically, liable for any wrongdoing, it did cast a light on unconstitutional practices in the police department, including things like "pedestrian checks," which are Terry stops of pedestrians without any particularized suspicion, and citing people for "failure to comply" with orders that didn't appear lawful to begin with.
The suit not only levies wrongful death charges against Wilson himself, but accuses the city and the former police chief of failing to properly train police officers and failing to conduct a fair investigation. The suit also claims that Ferguson's policing policies violate the Constitution.
Just a Few Facts In Dispute
While it appears clear that the police department generally engages in discriminatory and unconstitutional practices, as to Wilson himself, and the altercation that resulted in Brown's death, the facts are less clear. DOJ was unable to conclude that Wilson committed any crime, as eyewitness accounts of the event were conflicting.
Even looking at the prosecutor's case to the grand jury with a skeptical eye (there were times, noted those who had read the grand jury transcripts, that prosecutor Bob McCulloch acted like he was representing Wilson instead of the State of Missouri), there was a great deal of conflicting testimony about what happened.
The department will naturally move for summary judgment, but given the rather enormous factual disputes at issue (some eyewitnesses claimed that Brown went for Wilson's gun; others denied this), this case will either head to a jury trial or to a settlement. It's uncertain what the outcome of a jury trial would be, or indeed, if such a trial would have to be held elsewhere, given that much of the community was embroiled in the protests that followed not only Brown's shooting, but also Wilson's non-indictment.