State of Missouri v. Darren Wilson: Bias, Denial, and Flawed Reasoning

As expected, many people are having trouble accepting the Grand Jury decision in the case of the Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, who was involved in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown back in August. This difficulty springs forth from the same diseased root that also led to a similar problem in accepting the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial: prejudging a case before having all of the relevant facts.

Once these facts1Much of the documents and evidence presented to the Grand Jury can be viewed at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/11/25/us/evidence-released-in-michael-brown-case.html?_r=1 finally came to light, they appeared to tell a very different story than the one told by key eyewitness Dorian Johnson. These facts also served to highlight the intrinsic improbability—or in Bayesian terms, the prior probability—of Dorian Johnson’s story. That is to say, what is the prior probability that Dorian Johnson’s account is true?

Put symbolically: \(P(D|B)\) represents the probability that Dorian Johnson’s account \(D\) is true given only our background knowledge \(B\) of the world. What are some of the data that \(B\) might include? How about the fact that police officers don’t generally gun-down innocent, unarmed teenagers in the street in broad daylight; people don’t generally try to pull 6’4″ 294 lb. young men into the car with them in an altercation; and if they were to try, it would be near impossible to hold a 6’4″ 294 lb. 18 year-old in place using only one arm.

More important than \(P(D|B)\), though, is the posterior probability of Dorian’s story: \(P(D|B + E)\) represents the probability that Dorian Johnson’s account \(D\) is true given our background knowledge \(B\) of the world, and the evidence \(E\) specific to this case. What is some of the evidence specific to this case? The 3 autopsy reports are clear that Mike Brown was not shot in the back as was falsely claimed; the wound to his hand indicates close proximity with the gun as it was fired—contradicting Johnson’s claims that Brown’s hands were never anywhere near Officer Wilson’s firearm; Officer Wilson’s impeccable record in his 6 years of law enforcement; Dorian Johnson’s criminal past.

I want to expand a bit on that last item mentioned. On 9/28/2012, Johnson entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 2 years probation for filing a false police report!2https://www.courts.mo.gov/casenet/cases/charges.do Believe it or not, it gets better. Direct your attention to p. 176 of his testimony before the grand jury. In his response to questions concerning the incident, he falsely asserted the following:

[T]he judge, he threw that one out of court. I never got charged for that one or anything.3http://graphics8.nytimes.com/…/gj-…/grand-jury-volume-04.pdf

Never got charged? As everyone can clearly see, he pleaded guilty to the charge! We can also add perjury to \(E\) as well. And this is the man, the testimony of whom people are relying on as the basis for protesting, rioting, and looting?

Moving along, we next arrive at the complaints about how St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch didn’t “direct the Grand Jury” and “guide them towards a conviction.” The fact of the matter is, such a thing is in no way obligatory for him in his capacity as prosecutor. Moreover, I refer you to the United States Attorneys’ Manual (USAM)—a quick and ready reference for United States Attorneys and other employees of the United States Department of Justice responsible for the prosecution of violations of federal law—under section 9-11.233 Presentation of Exculpatory Evidence:

It is the policy of the Department of Justice, however, that when a prosecutor conducting a grand jury inquiry is personally aware of substantial evidence that directly negates the guilt of a subject of the investigation, the prosecutor must present or otherwise disclose such evidence to the grand jury before seeking an indictment against such a person.4http://www.justice.gov/…/foia_readi…/usam/title9/11mcrm.htm…

Now, since most of those who would condemn District Attorney McCulloch bow at the feet of Attorney General Holder, this presents a fatal dilemma: either (1) condemn Holder and the DOJ practice, or (2) admit that McCulloch correctly fulfilled and faithfully discharged his duties as prosecutor.

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Posted in Law, Politics.

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