Voters oust prosecutor accused of favoring Ferguson officer who killed Michael Brown

The Washington Post

Voters in St. Louis County, Missouri, have ousted veteran prosecutor Robert McCulloch, who was widely criticized in the aftermath of a deadly 2014 police shooting in Ferguson.

The slaying of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, became a flash point for protests about African-Americans shot and killed by police. On Tuesday, two days before the four-year anniversary of Brown's death at the hands of a white Ferguson police officer, McCulloch lost in the St. Louis County Democratic primary to Wesley Bell, a Ferguson city council member who ran on a platform of reforming the prosecutor's office.

Bell, who is black, won with nearly 57 percent of the vote, a margin of more than 24,000, according to the board of elections. No Republicans were on the ballot, all but guaranteeing that Bell will be St. Louis County's next prosecutor.

McCulloch has held the position since 1991 and ran unopposed in 2014. But Tuesday's primary was the first time he had faced voters since the announcement that Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown during a street confrontation, would not face charges.

McCulloch's announcement on Nov. 24, 2014 - just weeks after his reelection - set off more turbulent protests in Ferguson and fueled the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Critics accused the prosecutor of skewing the investigation in favor of Wilson and demanded the prosecutor recuse himself, as The Washington Post's Mark Berman reported. Several of McCulloch's family members are police officers, including his father, who was shot and killed by a black suspect when McCulloch was 12.

McCulloch defended himself before and after announcing the grand jury's decision, repeatedly rebuffing calls to step aside and dismissing arguments he was biased as "silly."

Many saw his attempt to hold on to his office as a referendum on what happened in the city of nearly 21,000.

"Obviously Ferguson defined this election," St. Louis University political science professor Ken Warren told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Warren had predicted a victory for McCulloch based on his long tenure and experience running a prosecutor's office. "Bell made his name through Ferguson, and [McCulloch] tarnished his name through his handling of Ferguson," Warren said.

Bell, 43, an attorney who has also served as a judge and prosecutor, alluded to Ferguson's spotlight in an Election Day posting on his campaign's Facebook page: "The world is watching. Let's show them what DEMOCRACY looks like."

He could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

His campaign platform included a pledge to "fundamentally change the culture" of the prosecutor's office, the AP reported, including appointing special prosecutors to review allegations of police misconduct.

Bell is black and McCulloch is white in a county where 23 percent of residents are African American.

In a video posted on his campaign Facebook page, Bell spoke of reunification: "There's too much divisiveness, too much division in this county, in this region. We've got to start bringing people together."

In an election night interview with St. Louis Public Radio, McCulloch said he was disappointed by the loss but downplayed the notion that Brown's death was a factor in his defeat.

"I wouldn't change a thing that I have done," he said. "I certainly wish to thank the people of the county for all they've done for me, allowing me to have this job for 28 years when I'm done."

The Washington Post's Mark Berman contributed to this report.

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