Federal Ferguson Investigation Will Remain Independent, Holder Insists : It's All Politics The federal probe is examining whether Darren Wilson intentionally violated Michael Brown's civil rights. Justice Department veterans say proving he violated federal criminal law will be difficult.
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Federal Ferguson Investigation Will Remain Independent, Holder Insists

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Federal Ferguson Investigation Will Remain Independent, Holder Insists

Federal Ferguson Investigation Will Remain Independent, Holder Insists

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Darren Wilson has now broken his silence. He's the police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. That killing set off a wave of protests in the community near St. Louis, and then more protests came this week after a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Wilson. Not just in Ferguson, there were protests in more than 150 U.S. cities. Last night Darren Wilson gave his first interview. He spoke with ABC's George Stephanopoulos about the shooting and about what he told a colleague shortly afterwards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DARREN WILSON: After the supervisor got there, I gave him the brief rundown of what had happened.

GEROGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What did you tell him?

WILSON: I told him that I had to shoot somebody. He asked me why. I said, well, he had grabbed my gun, and he had charged me. And he was going to kill me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you killed him first?

WILSON: Yes.

GREENE: This week's decision by a St. Louis County grand jury does not end the legal scrutiny of the Ferguson Police Department. Justice Department investigators are still looking at whether they can bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports they are also in search of wider patterns of discrimination within the police force in Ferguson.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The Justice Department investigations are proceeding along two tracks. First there's the federal criminal probe of Officer Darren Wilson. To bring a case, the FBI needs to prove the white policeman intended to deprive Michael Brown, the black 18-year-old, of his civil rights. But law enforcement officers like Wilson can rely on a powerful defense, arguing they acted to protect themselves and bystanders. That's why legal experts say federal criminal charges against Wilson are unlikely. But the Justice Department has another path in Ferguson, one that could lead to lasting changes there. Sam Bagenstos teaches law at the University of Michigan.

SAM BAGENSTOS: You know, an individual criminal prosecution - it's a high bar, and even if you get a conviction that's one person who's going to prison. But a pattern or practice case can actually change a police department and make it adhere to constitutional standards.

JOHNSON: Pattern or practice, that's a kind of civil rights investigation that looks for unconstitutional policing strategies. The Justice Department's been sifting through data about the race of people Ferguson police stopped for traffic violations and how many minorities get tickets for other smalltime offenses. Bagenstos says the Justice Department's reached agreements with other cities to change hiring practices impose more training, and overhaul how and when police use weapons. The Obama Justice Department has opened more than 20 such cases all over the country, a deliberate choice Bagenstos says.

BAGENSTOS: The pattern or practice cases have been a big strategy because they can make bigger change.

JOHNSON: Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters he's pressing to finish both investigations within weeks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: They will be conducted rigorously and in a timely manner so that we can move forward as expeditiously as we can to restore trust, to rebuild understanding and to foster cooperation between law enforcement and community members.

JOHNSON: Holder says other communities around the country have issues just like Ferguson's. He says he's determined to do all he can to ease those tensions, starting with visits to several major cities to talk about best practices for police. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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