Robert Weiner, former White House spokesman and spokesman for the House Government Operations Committee, and Policy Analyst Joseph Abay contend a way for justice to be served in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner is to “prosecute the prosecutors.”
In an article in today’s Michigan Chronicle, six times the number one African-American newspaper in America, and syndicated by Real Times Media, Weiner and Abay argue that prosecutors need to be held accountable for their actions regarding police-related shooting deaths of African Americans in Staten Island, Ferguson,Cleveland, and elsewhere. Weiner & Abay state “angriness with police actions in African American communities has been simmering for decades.”
Weiner and Abay state that “victims and families of victims can sue in cases of prosecutorial malfeasance.” They note that “prosecutors are rarely charged criminally, and even more rarely convicted criminally by reluctant courts who work with them, but it can and should happen when merited.” Weiner and Abay also argue that “civil suits against the prosecutors are another route for damages for Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice’s families.”
Weiner and Abay assert that the facts of the cases prove the families have a right to sue. They note that the New York City Police officer who choked Eric Garner to death, Daniel Panteleo, had several complaints of false arrests and unwarranted and unlawful strip searches.
Weiner and Abay believe the most damning evidence against Officer Panteleo was disregarded by the prosecutor. They cite how “Ramsey Orta, the Staten Island videographer, told the press that he was made to testify in only a cursory way, for 10 minutes, and during his testimony, the grand jury members were tweeting and texting, paying little attention. The prosecutor, who runs the show, essentially blew off Orta, clearly wanting to get rid of him as soon as possible. This man had likely the most important onsite evidence proving murder.” They say Pantaleo’s video “was the Zapruder film of the case.”
They add, “The coroner had five options from undetermined causes on down but branded the situation specifically the most forceful —homicide — and stated that the choke hold and pressure on the chest killed the victim.” They state that they were incredulous that “the man who was there, shot the video, saw it all unfold, saw the angles, saw the time durations, and saw the result was blown off.”
Weiner and Abay called into question: “Ten minutes? The jury playing around, ignoring it? The prosecutor not asking the jury to focus, and the prosecutor not asking this witness penetrating questions, which he should have done for several hours?” The authors contend, “This seems a preeminent potential case of holding prosecutors accountable.”
Weiner and Abay also assert the bias of the Ferguson head prosecutor. They contend that “Bob McCulloch has asserted on many occasions he would have joined the police force if not for medical issues. His father, who was a police officer, was allegedly killed in 1964 by a black man. Regardless, he claims it was “not something that clouds my judgment.”
However, they state that “Assistant Prosecutor, Kathy Alizadeh, opened the door wide to a malfeasance case. The Assistant Prosecutor told the jury and handed out an old state law, right before the policeman testified, that it was legal for him to shoot a fleeing suspect, a law that was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1985, making it NOT legal.”
They add, “Two weeks later the assistant prosecutor told the jurors that ‘the information was incorrect’ and did not explain to the non-lawyer jurors what was incorrect. The assistant prosecutor also told the jurors that neither the difference between what they were told initially nor the Supreme Court’s power to override the earlier state law were significant. The assistant prosecutor told the jurors these were ‘not important,’ and said this is not ‘a law class.’ Weiner and Abay contend, “Here ‘fraud against the court’ is a prosecutable offense that has been won against prosecutors.”
Weiner and Abay go on to say, “When Brown was later 35+ feet away and he then knew he was unarmed, even if Brown was running toward him (in doubt, but say it’s true), the policeman didn’t shoot the final shots at legs to disable rather than the head to kill?”
Weiner and Abay believe the prosecutors are just as liable as Officer Wilson for their actions in the courtroom, stating “Both the Assistant Prosecutor and Chief Prosecutor are culpable here for not aggressively penetrating these issues, as well as the intentional disinformation and obfuscation of the law.”
Weiner and Abay also consider Tamir Rice’s unjustifiable. They affirm that “in the Cleveland case, the merits were also strong—the 911 caller SAID it appeared to be a toy gun and a young boy (he was 12).”
Weiner ends by discussing his and his wife’s personal experiences with prosecutorial misconduct, particularly being subpoenaed by Ken Starr during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He states “when my wife and I were subpoenaed about Bill Clinton’s personal life, we knew it was simply harassment by Starr to send a message to intimidate federal employees (Bob was a White house staffer). He couldn’t have picked a worse couple for that.”
He recalls how right “after the testimony, Bob and his wife went out on the courthouse steps and said, “This is Big Brother at its worst.” His wife added, “This isn’t NaziGermany.”
He discusses the effects of his actions, noting the fall in popularity of Ken Starr. Other witnesses then also went on the courthouse steps to express similar dissatisfaction. Weiner and Abay cite “Mickey Kantor, Clinton’s Trade Representative and campaign chair” and how he “called to suggest Bob sue Grand Jury Prosecutor Starr for overreach under the law. That was a ‘right.’ However, in this case, we believed the strategy of ongoing media embarrassment of Starr for what he was doing (after testifying, Weiner with his wife on the courthouse steps called Starr’s actions ‘big brother at its worst,’ and they made the lead of Brokaw, Jennings, and photos and stories in most papers) was better and maintained a higher credibility since everyone would believe a lawsuit was political.” So whatever works, but at least challenge the prosecutor.
Weiner and Abay go on to list various measures to help improve the criminal justice system and policing practices. Their list includes “police body cameras, better training, more community policing, less militarization of police equipment, use of federal civil rights cases, civil cases against the policeman involved, moving cases away from then locality, and of course, massive public protests These are all excellent approaches,” but they note that “each process may take months or years to achieve results.” However, prosecuting the prosecutors and attention to the malfeasance would begin right away with the filing of the case.
They close by condemning the prosecutors in Staten Island, Ferguson, and Cleveland for their actions and inaction, asserting that the “prosecutors themselves are ‘getting away with murder.'” The conclude, “Families and the government both have an opportunity to go after them, make them feel the heat, bring out the truth by the depositions and testimony, and possibly, just possibly, win and achieve justice.”
Bob Weiner writes on the White House and Congress for the Chronicle. He is former White House spokesman and senior staff for Congressmen John Conyers,Charles Rangel, Claude Pepper, Ed Koch, and Sen. Ted Kennedy. He wrote the epilogue to Bankole Thompson’s groundbreaking book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty.” Joseph Abay is senior policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.