Was the Ferguson prosecutor's father, a cop, really killed by a black man?

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Peter James Hudson is an assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. He recently co-edited an issue of The CLR James Journal: The Journal of the Caribbean Philosophical Association on Black Canada.

MORE THAN 100,000 people have signed a petition demanding St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch recuse himself from the grand jury investigating the killing of Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson. McCulloch’s deep loyalties to the St. Louis Police Department, as evidenced by his prosecution of two racially charged, high-profile cases, have prompted critical doubts about his ability to fairly adjudicate evidence vindicating Brown, and implicating Wilson. His prosecution of a black man charged with murdering a St. Louis County police officer in 1991 raised serious questions about his motives, and in McCulloch’s 2001 investigation of the killing of two unarmed black men (whom McCulloch referred to as “bums”) by two white undercover police officers, questions arose, this time concerning McCulloch’s handling of witness testimony. The officers were never indicted.

McCulloch’s fealty to the police is clear. He has stated that he would have joined the force (after a stint in the military) had he not lost a leg to cancer as a teenager. “I couldn’t become a policeman,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “so being county prosecutor is the next best thing.” If he had become a cop, he would have followed a well-worn family path. His brother Joseph was a sergeant in St. Louis’s Ninth District. For two decades his mother, Anne, was employed as a clerk in the homicide division. His father, Paul, joined the force in 1949 before resigning to serve with the US Marines in Korea. Paul McCulloch returned to the SLPD in 1951 and in 1955 became an original member of the department’s Canine Corps. He became a minor celebrity because of the work of Duke, described by the Chicago Defender as his “reefer-sniffing dog.”

Fifty years before Michael Brown was shot to death on the streets of Ferguson, McCulloch’s father died in the line of duty. The father’s death casts additional doubt on the son’s ability to lead the grand jury investigation into Brown’s killing, while at the same time shedding a garish light on the history of racism, policing, and the law in St. Louis.

Paul McCulloch was killed the evening of July 2, 1964, during a gun battle in St. Louis’s infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing projects. His alleged killer, Eddie Steve Glenn, was a black man who had reportedly abducted a white woman. McCulloch was 12 years old at the time of his father’s death. He still gets emotional when the incident is brought up, though he denies that the killing has influenced his vision as a prosecutor. “My father was killed many, many years ago, and it’s certainly not something you forget, but it’s certainly not something that clouds my judgment in looking at a case,” McCulloch told theSt. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1991. “It certainly makes you more aware of the severity of it.”

Yet the memory of the killing clearly lives on. McCulloch evoked his father’s death in his campaign ads during his run for D.A. in 1991, and in the wake of the protests in Ferguson newspapers including The New York Times have recycled a redemption narrative of the bereaved son of an officer felled in the line of duty emerging as a messianic defender of justice. The killing of McCulloch’s father has also become part of the institutional lore of the St. Louis Police Department. Online bulletin boards and memorial pages contain posts written by police officers and their relatives offering condolences to the McCulloch family and providing testimony to Paul McCulloch’s character. McCulloch’s father is featured in the compilation In the Line of Duty: St. Louis Police Officers Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice, written by St. Louis police librarian Barbara Miksicek. Published via a $7,500 donation from the St. Louis Police Foundation, the second edition of In the Line of Duty came out this past March. In July of this year, the Gendarme, the monthly newsletter of the St. Louis Fraternal Order of Police, published a story marking the 50-year anniversary of McCulloch’s death.

There is, however, a problem with this story of murder and memorialization. The problem is this: Eddie Glenn may not have murdered Robert McCulloch’s father.

While Glenn was charged and convicted of first-degree murder by the Missouri courts, a close reading of the state’s justifications for his conviction and sentence suggests two alternative possibilities. One, Glenn might have been guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter, but should have been acquitted anyway due to the circumstantial and doubtful nature of the evidence against him. Two, McCulloch might have been killed by either his own gun or from gunfire from a fellow officer.

In either scenario, what is abundantly clear is that Glenn was railroaded to a murder conviction and a death sentence. During his arrest and trial there were egregious violations of his civil and constitutional rights by the St. Louis Police Department and the Missouri courts. There were questions concerning the circumstances under which Glenn’s confession was obtained. There were doubts surrounding the bias of the presiding judge and concerns with his prejudicial interventions into the defense’s cross-examination of police witnesses. Forensic evidence in the case was ambiguous. The jury — made up of 12 white men — was predisposed to find him guilty. And perhaps most importantly, there were no witnesses to the alleged crime.

Furthermore, as narrated by the St. Louis Police Department and the State of Missouri, the events leading to the killing of Paul McCulloch are so laden with anti-black stereotypes and so structured by white fears of African-American criminality that the entire incident appears almost as a caricature, an opéra bouffe, of 1960s white Southern justice — if only itsdenouement were not so tragic, and if only it did not undermine the possibilities of justice for Michael Brown....




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