CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — New St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell is wasting no time implementing changes in how the county approaches crime. But so far he’s not ready to address his biggest issue: whether to reopen the investigation of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Among Bell’s first actions since taking office eight days ago was taking steps to remove three veteran assistant prosecutors, including Kathi Alizadeh, who played a role in presenting evidence to the grand jury in the Ferguson case. Bell, the first African-American to be elected St. Louis County circuit attorney, also has already made significant policy changes, including announcing Tuesday that his office will seek counseling, rather than jail, for opioid abusers.
But at a news conference announcing the latest sea change, Bell declined comment on whether he’ll reconsider charging Ferguson officer Darren Wilson
in Brown’s death.
Other policy changes he’s made include ending prosecutions for most marijuana possession cases, eliminating cash bail in misdemeanor and low-level felonies, and using civil rather than criminal procedures for people who fail to pay child support.
Bell faces no restrictions in re-examining Brown’s death for potential murder charges. Wilson was never charged and tried, so there is no double-jeopardy. There is no statute of limitations on filing murder charges.
It’s been nearly 4 1/2 years since the shooting of the black and unarmed 18-year-old put Ferguson in the spotlight of the national Black Lives Matter movement. On a hot August day in 2014, Wilson, a white officer, told Brown and another young black man to stop walking on the street. That led to an argument and a fight between Wilson and Brown.
Moments later, Brown was killed. Wilson claimed the 6-foot-4 nearly 300-pound Brown came at him menacingly. Some people near the shooting scene initially claimed Brown had his hands up in surrender, though a U.S. Department of Justice investigation didn’t find those accounts credible.