Should Michael Brown’s Stepfather Be Criminally Charged For Inciting A Riot?

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Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson indicated this week that they are “pursuing” an investigation into whether comments made by Michael Brown’s stepfather Louis Head (shown here in the white cap) should be charged for his inciting a riot for his response to the news that there would be no indictment of Officer Darren White. While I certainly do not condone the language, I have long been a critic of such “violent speech” prosecutions and I believe that such charges would violate his free speech rights and ignore the mitigating factor of a family member in a highly emotional position that night. Warning: profane words are contained in the story below and the videotape.

After the news of the grand jury decision, Head started to scream “Burn this motherfucker down! Burn this bitch down!” Looting and arson broke out soon after the decision of the grand jury.

In addition to police chief, Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder told Fox News that it sounds like Head was trying to incite a riot.

After the grand jury’s decision was announced, 12 commercial buildings in Ferguson were destroyed by fire and there were well over 100 arrests at St. Louis-area.

I do not believe that Head’s comments would satisfy the standard established by the Supreme Court in 1969 in Brandenburg v. Ohio as advocating imminent violence. Violent speech is protected under the Constitution absent such a threat of imminent violence. I have previously written about the dangerous line of criminalizing speech. I currently have a case going before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on this issue in United States v. Al-Timimi.

Adding to the constitutional concerns raised by the threatened prosecution of Head is that fact that he was a grieving family member expressing widely shared anger at the news of the decision. He had just jumped up to hold his wife who was sobbing after the news. I doubt anyone seriously believes that it was Head who triggered the rioting, looting, and arson. Those crimes occurred at the time of the incident and were widely anticipated by law enforcement personnel. Head has apologized for his outburst and said that he was wrong to call for violence.

Source: CBS

132 thoughts on “Should Michael Brown’s Stepfather Be Criminally Charged For Inciting A Riot?”

  1. rafflaw,

    You have a fundamental misunderstanding of the historical role of the Grand Jury and the duty of the Prosecutor to provide them with evidence that would negate the charge.

    You’re part of the problem! You will faithfully defend the Grand Jury being a rubber stamp for the prosecutor.

    Anyone who has researched the historical role of the Grand Jury recognizes that they also serve to prevent oppressive and tyrannical government abuse.

    “The question in United States v. Williams was whether it is prosecutorial misconduct, requiring the dismissal of an indictment, for the prosecutor to withhold from the grand jury “substantial exculpatory evidence” in his possession that might lead the grand jury to reject the indictment. The Supreme Court said no. Justice Scalia, joined by four other Justices, held that the Constitution does not require exculpatory evidence to be disclosed, even when it is directly contrary to the prosecutor’s theory of guilt. That is partly because the grand jury’s role is not to determine guilt or innocence, but rather to decide whether there is enough evidence of a crime that a conviction is possible. The grand jury itself can say “we’ve heard enough,” and so the Court declined to impose on the prosecutor a burden to present it with all of the evidence.

    Justice Stevens dissented, in an opinion that was joined by the other three Justices. For him, the idea of the prosecutor withholding known exculpatory evidence was inconsistent with the grand jury’s historic role in preventing “hasty, malicious and oppressive persecution” and its “function in our society of standing between the accuser and the accused.” Notably, however, even Justice Stevens’s dissent admitted that the prosecutor need not “ferret out and present all evidence that could be used at trial to create a reasonable doubt as to defendant’s guilt.” He suggested that it would be enough to require prosecutors to present evidence known to them that “directly negates the guilt of a subject of the investigation” – a requirement taken from the (unenforceable) United States Attorneys’ Manual.”

  2. Jack,
    You may want to look a little closer at how a grand jury works. It is not the job of the prosecutor to produce possibly exculpatory evidence to the grand jury or to give the jury false information concerning the law. Did you ask how many times this prosecutor used this allegedly full and complete process with grand juries instead of the normal process?
    You do not leave a body in the street for over 4 hours for the investigation.

  3. rafflaw, Hypocrite much?

    The old adage that a prosecutor can get a Grand Jury to “indict a ham sandwich” didn’t come about due to an unbiased process. Did it?

    Millions of people throughout the United States have been indicted. When those people are indicted by a process that is rigged to indict, rafflaw was faithfully and expectedly silent. In fact, he appears to be a champion of that process.

    How about removing that log from your eye before whining about the speck of dust in the eye of another.

  4. As far as “rafflaw” is concerned, he is an opinion, although usually different if not outright opposed to mine, that I find necessary to prevent an echo chamber. To my knowledge he has never stooped to snark and personal ad hominems. I can agree to disagree, but I am willing to listen to those who don’t spew bile…once in a while I actually learn something. Even blockheads can do this…I’m proof 🙂

  5. happypappies …do you realize you are describing almost the same thing as I am? Detroit didn’t go to he*l in a hand basket because of the economy in the 60’s and early 70’s, but that is what the national media portray. One of very best friends from my teens onward, first left town himself (emigrated to Canada) when he’d had enough, but now he is ill with serious complications from dementia to aneurysms of arteries. He is a guy who put his own life at risk for mine long ago…and I must travel to Atlanta where he is now, cared for by his wife and her family, to visit him, by the end of the month or early January. The media seldom covers the truly powerful bonds many black families have and they are equally troubled by the culture shift and broken families around them. I am looking forward to the trip and to staying with them for a couple days. It is an obligation I must honor. He and his wife are the ones who threw the party for me when I enlisted and was due to depart…and were the first to welcome me home as well. Affection is always better than hate.

    BTW…in the 60’s when a skilled tradesman contractor, my favorite parts of St Louis were “Gaslight Square” (touristy) and East St Louis, a rougher place to be sure, but comfortable for me non-the-less.

    I really do understand what standing for your own principles can cost you, and I am sorry it cost you so much. I have learned to ignore the nay-sayers, family and otherwise…and there has been more than a few…including a brother. We have to be ourselves and not shape it to fit someone else’s idea of what is “proper.” “Proper” is when you can look in the mirror and respect yourself.

    1. Aridog. No – I didn’t realize it. It makes you, me and rafflaw emotional because we all can’t stand it and we want it better. I don’t want to go through this again and I am so ashamed of some of the things people are doing but I am ashamed of Louis Head and Lesley McSpadden who “Never hurt no one” and beat Michael Brown’s Grandmother up over a T Shirt. It reminds me of my Family at the Funeral of my Dad only we weren’t on National TV and we were “random caucasians” I don’t care what Rafflaw says. I think Color is overused. Italians and Irish were mistreated not so long ago.

      @ Jack – Self Righteous much take it out of your @#& please. rafflaw is cool.

      1. happypappies – nothing brings out the best in a family like a death in the family.

        1. Paul C. Schulte – It really does. It makes them crazy. Unless they are perfect and have no baggage and I don’t think that can be said of the McSpadden/Head/Brown case

          rafflaw – no – his body should not have been in the street for 4 hours. I got in more arguments with people about that telling me that was the coroners fault and not the prosecutors fault. The way I see it, that is what enraged the people was treating the body like it was dead meat. I truly don’t think that would have been done to a white person. Pushing around and being rough, yes. But not leaving them in the street disrespectfully like that. That was what got to me. ……. Regardless of the investigation.

          1. happypappies – the prosecutor does not get into the case until after the police do their initial investigation. I cannot see the prosecutor being at fault for the length of time Michael Brown was left. However, I do know that in the UK they put tents up over crime scenes and they could be there for days before the body is moved. And we have traffic accidents where it takes 4 hours just to get to the body.

            1. Paul C. Schulte

              happypappies – the prosecutor does not get into the case until after the police do their initial investigation. I cannot see the prosecutor being at fault for the length of time Michael Brown was left. However, I do know that in the UK they put tents up over crime scenes and they could be there for days before the body is moved. And we have traffic accidents where it takes 4 hours just to get to the body.

              You can’t be serious….. Feguson is not the United Kingdom – In London there is close to 14,000 people per square mile
              Ferguson has 21 thousand people as of 2013 – he population density was 3,425.4 inhabitants per square mile

              And you forget – I lived there. There is no earthly reason for it to take 4 hours for a coroner or whatever to get there or a tent to go over the body. There are no ensuing riots there no matter what you might think. I still have friends there. White friends. God I hate this. What difference does it make.

              I am just saying that there was no reason to leave him in the street that long. And I will stand by that. The only time white people where left laying in the street was during the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

              It is very undignified to do that.

              1. happypappies – I just finished binge watching the series Dead Like Me, which if you have not seen, I highly recommend. However, my point is, there was a great comment in there about leaving dead bodies around and the reply was “The dead do not care.”

                1. Paul C. Schulte

                  Lesley McSpadden the Mother did care – Missouri state Rep. Sharon Pace] purchased some tea lights for the family, and around 7 p.m. she joined Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, and others as they placed the candles and sprinkled flowers on the ground where Brown had died. “They spelled out his initials with rose petals over the bloodstains,” Pace recalled.

                  By then, police had prohibited all vehicles from entering Canfield Drive except for their own. Soon the candles and flowers had been smashed, after police drove over them.

                  This is all in the first hours after Brown’s body was finally removed, with the boy’s mother and the rest of the crowd watching. So yeah, just a crackerjack job by St. Louis law enforcement on this one. Start out by letting dogs piss on the flowers, run over the candles in your cars, move on to tear gassing people for walking around after dark.

                  1. happypappies – if you read the testimony of the witnesses, there was a story being put together early to protect Michael and canonize him. And to the credit of the Brown family they did canonize the little thug. They have been able to place the blame for Michael’s death on everyone but Michael.
                    When you put things in the street they get run over. The police say Brown for who he really was, the parent either were covering up or didn’t see their son for the thug he really was.

                    1. Paul C Schulte – I know, and a dog pees on them too. To add insult to injury. That’s okay. I can play both sides of this also. But it’s stupid because he was a human being with a soul known to the Unknowable Known and the way I know Him, he might be forgiven. We don’t know.

                      Lesley McSpadden and Louis Head were responsible for that boy’s behavior but they still grieved because they were human and you have to be cold if you just write them off because their son is a “thug”

                      I am not going into why again by writing another expose’ about the t shirt incident

                    2. happypappies – the t-shirt incident just shows the character of Michael Brown’s role models. I very much doubt that Michael Brown was forgiven by any higher being. One has to show remorse to be truly forgiven.

                    3. Paul C. Schulte said happypappies – the t-shirt incident just shows the character of Michael Brown’s role models. I very much doubt that Michael Brown was forgiven by any higher being. One has to show remorse to be truly forgiven.

                      Michael Brown was 18 years old and we don’t know the sum total of his actions. Just our own judgments. My understanding is his judment will be on his actions in life. He was a little bullying jerk no doubt, but no one is perfect in this life and his sin appears very obnoxious in the limelight

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