Questions have been raised in Ferguson, Mo., about the role of that state's senior U.S. senator: Did either Sen. Claire McCaskill or her staff communicate to the Department of Justice that it should end its Ferguson investigation after the local grand jury ends its own?
It's been widely speculated that the St. Louis County grand jury—empaneled by police-connected St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch—will not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in connection with the Aug. 9 shooting death of a black teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown.
And now multiple sources tell The Root that a small coterie of elected officials—mostly white Democrats—in Greater St. Louis have been working behind the scenes to bring the controversy surrounding Brown's killing by Wilson to a quiet end.
According to sources, the effort escalated during the past week after a series of one-sided leaks, favorable to Wilson's version of events on Aug. 9, appeared in the press.
This week, sources said that McCaskill's office pushed the Department of Justice to end its investigation after the grand jury's decision, which, they said, could be announced as early as next week. Ultimately, the DOJ investigation could determine whether or not Wilson violated Brown's civil rights.
"There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Senator McCaskill's office has pushed the Department of Justice to declare an end to the DOJ investigation if a decision of no-indictment is issued by the grand jury," a high-ranking government official told The Root.
When her office was asked this week via email whether or not the senator wants the Justice Department to carry out a full investigation, regardless of the grand jury decision, no on-the-record response was given. But sources close to McCaskill indicated that she believes the independent DOJ inquiry is an "important part" of the process.
McCaskill, a former prosecutor, has known McCulloch for more than 25 years. Their relationship dates back to her tenure in the Missouri House of Representatives. And multiple high-ranking sources have told The Root that the senator is privy to the details of the grand jury investigation and the prosecutor's progress. A call to her office on that question was not returned.
"What will become apparent to St. Louis and the nation,” Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) told The Root in reaction to recent developments, is that "St. Louis has a system of justice that is unfair and that is not equal to African Americans. The community cannot get fairness out of the system,” Clay said when asked what the feeling in St. Louis is likely to be if Wilson isn't indicted.
With regard to reported leaks, Clay stated, "The whole process is a farce when you have a state grand jury that is supposed to be secret. The whole process has been tainted," adding, "This is supposed to be a secret proceeding."
Clay also said he's been told that "we are not going to lose life or property," and "we will be prepared," when asked if there was any plan in place for when the grand jury decision is announced—a reference to law enforcement's potential response to protests.
"Michael Brown's family has always said that they don't trust any of the local St. Louis authorities. They have been asking for a special prosecutor from day one because they don't believe the local officials will give equal justice to their child," attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the Brown family, told reporters last week.
Attorney General Eric Holder also reacted to the recent leaks about the grand jury proceedings. "[L]eaking out selective information, which started as early as release of that tape from that … convenience store. And then these leaks about what happened in the car. These are all the kinds of things that I think are inappropriate. I've said I'm exasperated. That's a nice way of saying it. I'm mad. That's not how things should be done by people in law enforcement,” Holder said at a forum in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 29.
He also said that there's an ongoing "pattern and practice" investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. "It's pretty clear that the need for wholesale change in that department is appropriate," he said, adding, "Exactly what the forms of that change will be, we'll wait until we complete our inquiry."
Clay is pushing for a wider DOJ investigation of the local court system. In a letter to Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, Clay asserted that the local municipal court system "operates mostly as a revenue source for the state and county, with little oversight."
"Many jurisdictions often function as little more than municipal ATM machines, and they repeatedly victimize local residents who happen to be African American," Clay said during an interview Tuesday. A recent study (pdf) of the St. Louis municipal court system showed that black residents in and around St. Louis are paying a disproportionate amount of fines.
Several sources indicated that government leadership around Greater St. Louis is out of step with members of the community.
A meeting of elected officials on the matter of the investigation of Brown's death is expected to take place on Monday.