In situations like the shooting deaths of Michael Brown, Junior or Vonderrit Myers, Junior, two state lawmakers say the local prosecutor should automatically be taken off the case.
Senator Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, and Representative Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, want to offer legislation to require that a special prosecutor head up investigations of officer-involved fatal shootings.
Nasheed wants to file that bill because of the unrest among people in Ferguson after Michael Brown shooting, “Due to the fact that, one, they felt he was shot unjustifiably, and also they don’t believe that there will be a fair and impartial investigation due to the fact that [St. Louis County Prosecutor] Bob McCulloch has a deep water relationship with law enforcement officers there.”
Barnes says such a change would combat the public perception that bias can exist no matter who the individuals involved are.
“There is a perception from the public,” says Barnes, “that a person who works with another person all of the time, or with another entity all of the time, would have a more difficult time making a reasoned judgment about whether to move forward with a case.”
Both say details of a bill are still being considered and they expect to file one for the session that begins in January. Barnes says the easiest approach might be to simply require that an outside agency investigate a fatal officer-involved shooting, and that the Attorney General or its designee handle prosecution if a case comes to that.
Asked its opinion of the concept, the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys released this statement from its president, Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight:
“The American prosecutor’s authority is derived directly from the people through popular election. In order to promote the integrity of the criminal justice system, and to guard against political influences, the prosecutor must remain autonomous from other executive branch officials.
No legislator has reached out to us to discuss the issue of expansion of the special prosecutor statute. While we are always willing to discuss ideas, Missouri’s prosecutors have traditionally resisted efforts to shift the trust and discretion that the people have placed in us to other government officials.
We are hopeful that the legislature will instead work with us to improve the delivery of vital services to crime victims, which currently face significant funding challenges.”
Both Nasheed and Barnes say they will reach out to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ association and the Missouri Bar about the issue.