A fledgling news media watchdog has launched a lawsuit against St. Louis County, Missouri, seeking to obtain the criminal justice records -- arrests and convictions -- of the 18-year-old who had been shot and killed by a police officer, an incident that triggered days of civil unrest and looting in Ferguson, Missouri, according to news reports on Wednesday. A hearing in the case is set for September 3 before Judge Ellen Siwak.
Investigative journalist Charles C Johnson, founder of GotNews.com filed the civil lawsuit in order to gain access to the juvenile arrest records of Michael Brown, who was shot-to-death by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014. The shooting became a controversial cause celebre since Brown was unarmed and Officer Wilson, who is white, shot six rounds into the 6'4" tall, 290 lbs. African American.
According to Johnson and his staff, there is suspicion that the teenaged Brown was a member of the Crips street gang which is based in Los Angeles but has "cliques" throughout the U.S. Ironically, one of the celebrities who attended Brown's funeral service on Aug. 25 was one of the alleged Crips founders, Snoop Dogg, now a wealthy hip-hop star.
In conversations on Twitter and elsewhere, people claiming to be police officers have alleged that rather than being a saintly teenager, Brown was a budding killer and criminal.
In order to confirm whether those police officers are correct or not may only be determined by the examination of Brown’s juvenile criminal records, which are always sealed in order to protect those who are under 18-years-old. But Johnson in his lawsuit contends that now those records should be made available since Brown is now dead and so his right to privacy no longer exists.
"The majority of news media reports are quick to say that Brown was never arrested as an adult, however he had been eighteen for a only few months," according to Det. Joel Seaman, a former homicide detective.
"It's hard to believe that everyone only had nice things to say about Michael Brown. At least that's how the majority of news organizations 'played it,'" said Seaman.
In announcing his lawsuit and the reason for its importance, Charles Johnson stated:
"Knowing the truth about Brown’s past will help us gauge the credibility of his parents and family who have called him a 'gentle giant.' Brown’s strong-arm robbery of a shopkeeper would seem to put the lie to this narrative but it remains. Brown’s friends—who have changed their story already—are similarly untrustworthy in the accounts they have given."
"The only thing that we do have is the public record but unfortunately the St. Louis County court doesn’t want it released. It’s irresponsible to keep that information from the public if it changes the public’s mind of the character of Michael Brown," the lawsuit filed by GotNews.com's attorney, John C. Burns, contends. "It’s especially irresponsible given what’s happening in Ferguson," he noted.
“What we’re arguing is that since he is deceased, those documents revert from being confidential, they revert back into the public sphere. Missouri common law applies, and under Missouri common law, court records and virtually all other documents are open to the public,” Burns said.
According to his website, Charles Johnson got the idea for GotNews.com when he quit writing for other news organizations earlier this year, claiming he was frustrated with the lack of serious investigative journalism that exists in print and broadcast news. He attributed the situation to the adversity to risk of the national media, coupled with the constant 'stenography' of Washington and New York City news media executives who cozy up to the rich and powerful rather than report the truth.