Attorney General Eric Holder arrived in Ferguson, Missouri, Wednesday to head up a federal investigation that is becoming unprecedented in American law enforcement, legal experts say.
With an army of FBI agents on the ground and the governor of Missouri calling for a “vigorous prosecution” of the officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, many are questioning if the case isn’t already tainted before any arrest has been made.
Gov. Jay Nixon’s comments, along with the arrival of Holder and his statements in a local newspaper, are creating a toxic environment for any future trial that may be conducted for Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, says one former cop and member of the White House Secret Service team.
Dan Bongino sees the hallmarks of a political psychological operation rather than an honest criminal investigation.
“Everything to them is political,” he said, and Ferguson has proved no exception.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an “open letter” by Holder to the city of Ferguson Wednesday that seemed to play on already raw emotions in the city and the nation, noted Bongino, the former Obama Secret Service agent now running for Congress in Maryland.
Holder’s letter said law enforcement “priorities and arrest patterns must not lead to disparate treatment under the law, even if such treatment is unintended. And police forces should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.”
Bongino said it was “almost unprecedented” to have the chief law enforcement officer in the nation taking such an active role in a criminal investigation before any arrests have been made and the local investigation is still not concluded.
He called Holder a “phony” and a “complete fraud.”
“There’s nothing done on Benghazi, the IRS, Fast and Furious, yet here you have a case where nothing’s been determined, where he (Wilson) may be guilty, he may not be, and Holder’s got a contingent of 40 agents out there,” Bongino said. “It’s strictly for political reasons, to stoke the flames of fury in America.”
Bongino called the efforts to convict Wilson in the media before he is charged with any crime a form of “vigilante justice.”
“I think the important question to ask ourselves is do we believe in vigilante justice or do we believe in law and order? Having been a former cop, I can tell you the facts aren’t even out yet and there’s still an investigation being done, and while we can have a sensible conversation about military equipment and the use of it, there’s just no sensible conversation right now about the officer’s actions or those of Michael Brown,” he said. “These facts just haven’t been released yet.”
Bongino said he finds it disturbing that anyone, on the right or on the left, at this point would rush to judge Wilson, one way or the other.
“They don’t know what happened yet, and you have effectively the firing squad going after this cop,” he said. “Why anyone would want to be a police officer today in America is beyond me.”
Savage: Fact-free conclusions
Radio host and political author Michael Savage also has been hitting hard this week on what he sees as twisted justice in Ferguson.
On Tuesday he called out Amnesty International, other “leftists,” the media and the federal government for jumping to conclusions about what happened in the Aug. 9 shooting before any facts were known.
“Why is Amnesty International on the scene in Ferguson while an international genocide is going on in Iraq?” Savage asked. “Social justice? These are social vandals; they are trying to burn Ferguson to the ground. Multiple witnesses say the unarmed teen attacked the cop. You don’t want to hear that the poor, unarmed teen rushed the cop, smashed his head in, broke his eye socket and was trying to wrest his gun away from him. You don’t want to hear that.”
If it had been the opposite scenario, things would have played out differently, Savage said. There would have been no media circus.
“If the teen, the poor unarmed teen, who everyone is mourning for, the martyr of the day, had managed to get the gun away from the cop and kill the cop, tell me what would be going on today? Nothing,” he said. “All of the rioters in the streets would be doing what they normally do – selling drugs, cashing their welfare checks. … But now they have a social cause because Al Sharpton told them what their cause is.”
Bongino said the level to which the Democrats are willing to sink in using the Ferguson crisis to their political advantage was on full display when they set up a voter registration booth 50 feet away from where Brown was killed.
“If the Republican Party had done that, there would be a media outrage, and rightfully so, but because it’s Democrats all is forgiven,” he said.
The Democratic Party of John F. Kennedy is now dead, he said, with today’s party leaders focused on dividing and distraction politics.
“They have nothing to run on, nothing. They can’t run on Obamacare. They can’t run on helping vets, on immigration policy. They can’t run on President Obama’s popularity, so what do they do? They cordon off America into groups,” Bongino said.
“It’s Muslim versus Jew, black versus white, woman versus men, rich versus poor. It’s immigrant versus native-born, young versus old. It’s nearly endless, and they are doing it for a strategic reason, not an ethical or moral reason, because once they can get these groups to look at each other with a sense of vitriol, they can blame the other party for causing all of that one group’s problems,” he said.
“They don’t say vote for me – they have nothing to run on – they say don’t vote for these other guys because they did this to you, they’re against you. That’s all they have, and the sycophantic media refuses to do its job and is part and parcel to the shredding of America, fiber by fiber.”
No data to support racially based shootings
While Holder implies in his letter that arrests and shootings are “uneven” across racial lines, the data does not bear that out, says one of the nation’s top academic researchers on police use of lethal force.
David Klinger, an associate professor in the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri in St. Louis and a former officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, said there are two permissible circumstances in which an officer can use lethal force.
An officer can shoot a suspect who is threatening his life or the life of a fellow officer or a member of the public, said Klinger. This would be squarely within the bounds of the Constitution under a legal concept known as the “defense of life” standard.
An officer can also shoot a fleeing suspect if the officer believes the suspect has committed a violent felony and his or her escape would pose a significant and serious threat, he said.
At best, the data is incomplete when it comes to whether police unfairly target blacks with lethal force, Klinger said.
“The problem is that the data we have nationally is not good,” he said. “So it’s difficult to say who is more likely to be shot in one group as opposed to another group.”
This is because the FBI does not require police agencies to report all officer-involved shootings. Even the reporting of “justifiable” shootings is voluntary and, therefore, vastly under-reported, Klinger said.
“What we can say is, those who have done studies find that young, black males are disproportionately involved in these police shootings,” he said. “However, if you take into account the disproportionate involvement of young black males in criminal activity, yes, they are more likely to be shot. But if you look at the types of crime, they tend to be involved in those types of crimes that are more likely to result in a shooting. So the disparity is not as great as it might first appear.”
Klinger said he presented a paper on this issue to the American Society of Criminology in November 2013 with several of his colleagues, which is now up for peer review before publication in an academic journal.
“We found that, yes, young black men are more involved, but once you take into account the crime rates in those communities, the racial factor basically washes out,” he said. “And this question of differential black involvement has been around since the social scientific community started studying it in late ’60s and early ’70s.”
He said an older study of black police officers in New York City found that these officers fired their weapons more often than white officers in the city, but that was only because they tended to live and work in areas with the highest crime rates.
Stoking the flames based on ’emotion’
Bongino said the Holder-led Justice Department found a way in Ferguson to avoid honoring its oath of office to follow the rule of law and extend due process of law to all suspects in a crime.
“It allows them to jump to vigilante justice, to stoke the flames of division instead of doing an actual criminal investigation,” he said. “This officer is not entitled to due process and, if you subscribe to that theory, how do you know you are not next? What about probable cause? Should they have probable cause to arrest you, or should they be able to arrest you just because you are part of a politically disfavored group?”
Bongino noted that even some legal scholars not associated with the political right are noticing the dangerous shift from equal justice to selective justice.
“You have Jonathan Turley (law professor at George Washington University) coming out and saying Obama is the president Nixon always wanted to be. People across the political spectrum are really starting to get disturbed that we have entered an era of discretionary government,” he said. “Remember, the government has a monopoly on force, and when the boxer hits one group, what’s to stop him from turning and hitting someone down the road who is of a different stripe?
“That’s why I’m so disturbed by vigilante justice in this case,” he continued. “Everyone deserves constitutional due process, not emotional due process.”
Bongino said that while there are certainly bad cops working the streets of almost any town, “the idea that cops go out and shoot people just because they look different is an absolute absurdity.”
“Are there bad cops? Yes,” he said. “But acting like this officer actually went to work looking to do a shooting; if you think this guy thought this was a good thing, that this would benefit his career, what kind of a sick mind would think that?
“Calling for a lynch mob for either one of these guys is just grossly irresponsible. And the death of this kid is tragic. If their version of the story is correct, then let justice be served. But are we entitled even to hear it, or should we just go by emotion and forget due process?”