Watching “Fox and Friends” this morning made me realize why I rarely watch television. The topic du jour, of course, was the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Here is some advice to television hosts who know very little about law enforcement and criminal investigations: before asking questions or making ignorant statements, get a grasp on the issues at hand.
For example, much as been made about the police releasing the video of a man, reportedly Michael Brown, acting thug-like while stealing some cigars from the store. From the video, the item being removed appeared to be a box of Philly Blunts. These cigars are known to have their tobacco removed and marijuana inserted. More importantly, the video depicts the mindset of Mr. Brown moments before he was stopped by the officer. Statements from the Ferguson police chief indicate that the officer was stopping Brown and his friend for walking in the middle of the street. The officer apparently had no knowledge of the strong-arm robbery that had occurred moments earlier; however, Brown allegedly did. As such, Brown might have reacted in a manner consistent with an individual involved in a robbery.
Thus, the reason the police released the video is to illustrate that Brown might not have been the gentle giant — simply minding his own business — when he had police contact. The video does exists and does not disparage the robber; the robber disparaged himself. Moreover, in the immediate aftermath of the Rodney King beating, the media and the public had no issues with the video of the officers beating King being released. Video is not an allegation but an illustration of what actually occurred. After watching the video, members of the public are free to draw their own conclusions.
Showing a significant lack of understanding regarding the criminal justice system, one of the “Fox and Friends” hosts wondered, aloud, why a warrant had not been issued for the officer who shot Brown, leading readers to believe that the officer had been charged. At this point in time, I am unaware of the results of Brown’s autopsy or that statement of the officer investigators. This is a complicated process. Internally, the officer might have been ordered to provide a statement. When this is done, the officer is typically read a “Garrity warning,” which states that any information provided by the officer during an internal investigation cannot be used in any subsequent criminal proceeding. This warning is the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Garrity v. New Jersey; whereby, the Court held that statements obtained by threats of discipline would violate the officer’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if admitted in a criminal case.
The next issue is the police response to the protestors and the looters. From my experience, these issues need to be dealt with separately. Missouri’s governor should have called out the National Guard to protect Ferguson’s businesses, which would have enabled civilian law enforcement personnel to focus on order maintenance matters. Instead, law enforcement has refused to protect area businesses, even suggesting that the business owners arm themselves. The last time I checked, businesses paid property taxes and, as such, deserve to have their property protected against looters. Moreover, if one of the business owners had shot a looter, the level of violence would surely escalate.
In regards to the shooting of Michael Brown, the investigation will work its way out. Forensics and ballistics will provide more detailed information, which is important because physical evidence does not lie. In the interim, the media — seeking ratings during the doldrums of August — will, no doubt, continue its uninformed coverage of events in Missouri.
Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His latest book, Best of the Spingola Files, Volumes I & II, is now available at Amazon.com.
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© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2014