Ethics Quiz: The Ferguson Settlement

News Item:

The parents of black teenager Michael Brown and the city of Ferguson, Missouri, have settled a lawsuit over his fatal shooting by a white city police officer in 2014, according to a court document filed on Monday. …Terms of the wrongful death settlement between Ferguson and Brown’s parents, Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden, were not disclosed. U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber approved the settlement and ordered it sealed.

“The gross settlement amount is fair and reasonable compensation for this wrongful death claim and is in the best interests of each plaintiff,” Webber wrote. Both James Knowles, the mayor of the blue-collar, largely black St. Louis suburb, and Anthony Gray, the lead attorney for Brown’s parents, declined to comment.

Wait, what?

A thorough investigation found Officer Wilson guilty of no crime, nor did the shooting appear to be the result of officer malfeasance or negligence. Brown’s parents, Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden, meanwhile, took extraordinary measures to stir up racial hatred and anti-police sentiment, not just locally but nationally, sparking deadly riots in Ferguson and elsewhere, and leading to attacks on police. They even made a human rights complaint to the United Nations, based substantially on a lie (“Hands up! Don’t shoot!”) concocted by their son’s friend and credulously reported as fact by the news media. By what theory are Brown’s parents deserving of damages from Ferguson? By agreeing to this settlement, is not Ferguson setting the precedent that any time a black suspect is shot by a white police officer, it is a wrongful death mandating damages?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Was this settlement, whatever the amount, ethical?

I’ll launch the debate by saying that the city probably had no choice but to settle, as the sooner this whole catastrophe can get in the rear view mirror the better off the city will be. In the narrow sense, then, the settlement was in the city’s best interest and the responsible course.

Long term, however, I see nothing but bad results flowing from this result. If Wilson was not wrong, then Brown was at fault. If Brown was at fault, his family should not benefit. If Ferguson paid out a significant amount when its police officer behaved reasonably, then Ferguson just set a precedent that Black Lives Matter could have authored in its dreams.

If a black victim is shot by the police, it is  racism and a wrongful death per se, whatever the facts are.

31 Comments

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31 responses to “Ethics Quiz: The Ferguson Settlement

  1. Of course, who pays that settlement?

    The Brown’s neighbors and fellow aggrieved citizens, right?

  2. I think this is all about the optics. Unethical, immoral, and likely fattening, but getting past this sorry segment of town history is necessary, locally and nationally.

    Personally, crooks (and their families) suing their victims (Wilson WAS the victim) makes me want to puke.

  3. Beckie

    I don’t think they should have received a settlement. Their whole outrage was based on lies. Even the prosecuting attorney had to admit witnesses lied: According to Robert McCulloch, St. Louis County Prosecutor, “Some witnesses admitted they didn’t actually see the shooting, or only saw part of the shooting, or only repeating what they heard on the street.”
    Witness 22, whose testimony was at first damaging to Officer Wilson, admitted she lied when pressed by investigators. Eventually telling the grand jury, quote: “I just felt like I want to be part of something…I didn’t see what I told the FBI…” There’s more here: http://wjla.com/news/nation-world/ferguson-witnesses-admit-they-lied-to-grand-jury-109852 (This is only one; there are dozens of news station articles that cover it)

    Lying under oath to the grand jury but not one of them gets charged for it? What message is that sending along with this settlement? Once the lie is told the damage is done and it could have cost someone a lot, but no punishment for lying under oath. What’s worse is that some accounts point to the fact that McCulloch knew they were lying and put them in front of the Grand Jury anyway, including Sandy McEleroy who lied to the FBI over 100 times and who the FBI had proved had never been at the scene.

    There’s something amiss in Ferguson….

  4. Matthew B

    The saddest part of this is that it detracts from legitimate police criticism. We’ve seen a few cases recently where officers were acquitted and they seem hard to understand. What’s going on is a huge herd mentality, and few willing to be objective and look at things on a case by case basis. There are a bunch of lies being told by BOTH sides and little intent to be fair.

    Given the absolute low level of trust anyone should be placing on the media, I’ve taken the time to read the available source material. (So far I do at least trust court records.) Officer Wilson didn’t do *ANYTHING* wrong here. There is no subjectivity in this, the forensic evidence against Brown is damning.

    I don’t have a good suggestion to end the deep divide. But we can’t let it stand. I fear that what happened last year in Dallas won’t be the end. When you’ve got people who are ready to kill and die because they’re convinced their cause is worthy, you’ve got a problem. I do see a parallel with Timothy McVeigh; far right wingers were dealing with federal law enforcement who was coloring at the edge of the lines and crossing at times with no accountability. We were fortunate that the secret service’s advice to prevent follow on terrorism was to stop the questionable, and sometimes illegal conduct of federal law enforcement. You can see that in the Nevada and Oregon standoff conduct. Federal law enforcement dealt with a soft hand because they are afraid of right wing terrorism.

    Taking that parallel to present the BLM / Police battle, I do think the police have room to back down that will help greatly. Right now police are schooled hard on the hyper-vigilance / shoot first mentality. This stems from multiple incidences of officers being shot at traffic stops, mostly by PTSD veterans. What this hyper-vigilance ignores is that it saves few officers at the expense of far more other people being killed. If someone really does intend to kill an officer, the chances of the first officer on the scene managing to change the outcome is slight. We’re too far on the side of “it might save one officer” and ending up killing many others.

    • Chris

      Great comment, Matthew.

      I must agree that I cannot find any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Officer Wilson, thus I think this settlement was wrong. The pre-existing problems with racism in policing in Ferguson are well-documented, but Brown does not appear to be a victim of this.

      • Matthew B

        I did leave out one other key factor – the travesty of police as local tax collectors that prey upon the poor. It needs to stop. I don’t know that it is necessarily overt racism of the police, it is the whole paradigm so many live in there.

        There is no viable mass transit, so driving is the only option for the working poor. White flight leaves all of these fractured towns on a downward spiral of dropping tax revenue, increasing crime and lower community involvement. The local politicians’ answer is to turn the police into tax collectors. The people they prey upon go into a downward spiral as they are often unable to pay the tickets and end up jailed for failure to pay and failure to appear.

        This sets up the bulk of the public who hate the police and what they represent. It leaves the whole public at a flash-point ready to riot when something like the Brown shooting happens.

        My state has usurped the fines. Local agencies only get to keep 15% of the fine for their court and other administrative costs and the state keeps the rest. The money never goes to local agencies nor law enforcement. If a location wants to actually address traffic from a livability aspect, they’ll write the ticket. It eliminates the incentive to use the police as revenue generation.

        • Why is there no mass transit?

          What stops people from buying buses and selling mass transit?

          • Matthew B

            I was merely making a statement of reality about mass transit; I was making no judgement one way or another regarding the reasons behind the existence of mass transit.

            I’m a fairly libertarian guy, and a staunch federalist.

            I’m absolutely against federal involvement in any form of transportation. The federal government simply collects taxes and passes them back to the states to actually conduct the work. I resent it on the federalism perspective alone, but the horrible inefficiency of federal involvement is worse.

            At a local level – it is not my business how St. Louis spends their money. I can observe and comment, but when it comes down to it, I shouldn’t have *ANY* say what they do. That’s the brilliance of federalism: we need a whole bunch more MYOB in the USA. What people in other states do shouldn’t matter to you until it comes and affects you where you live.

            As a practical matter, nobody is going to make money in mass transit. Nobody has since the personal automobile ascended. If it’s going to happen, the hand of government will have to help.

    • You can see that in the Nevada and Oregon standoff conduct. Federal law enforcement dealt with a soft hand because they are afraid of right wing terrorism.

      The way Janet Reno and Bill Clinton handled David Koresh in Waco went far in setting up the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing. The Feds came to understand that they themselves and their families could be in danger from this conduct.

      I pray we don’t have to learn the lesson again, in our ‘progressives have gone batshit’ times.

      • Matthew B

        Not just Waco, but Ruby ridge too.

        A friend of mine is a now retired Boundary County Deputy. He was there and said he knew that if it went bad, he wouldn’t leave alive. He said that he made sure the federal agents knew that. In the end, the FBI would win, but none of the agents there would be alive to see it.

  5. A bit of a side-note, but I am troubled by the sealing of the settlement and similar settlements. Whatever the merits of the case and the settlement number, the settlement is of considerable public interest. The taxpayer is paying the settlement. The person who settled the case on behalf of the taxpayer should be publicly-accountable for it.

      • Matthew B

        That could be a whole ethics alarms topic right there. I can’t see how it’s ethical in a democracy to have “private” settlements.

        I would also question if they really could be truly confidential in many states. In the states with strong FOIA laws, they may not be. In many cases everything is public record unless on a short list of explicitly excluded information. Information regarding litigation before the settlement of the case is excluded, but not usually afterwards.

        It looks like Missouri has a “sunshine” law. Maybe someone wants to make a filing to release the information on the settlement?
        http://www.nfoic.org/missouri-foia-laws

    • Isn’t there some kind of freedom of information inquiry that could get the settlement unsealed?

  6. Jack asked, “Was this settlement, whatever the amount, ethical?”

    No.

    Jack asked, “the city probably had no choice but to settle…”

    I disagree, there’s always a choice.

    Ferguson is trying to save face and quell the race baiting mobs of illogical people wielding their invalid hate and in the process they have set a terrible precedent that will not only screw them in the future but it will likely screw other communities as well. The city is showing just how cowardly they really are when it comes to fully supporting the legal actions of
    their officers. This is a cowardly capitulation to mob justice. If I was a police officer in that city, I’d quit the job and move out of the city just as fast as I could find another job, I’d be beating down the doors of other police departments to get the hell out of there.

    Jack wrote, “I see nothing but bad results flowing from this result. If Wilson was not wrong, then Brown was at fault. If Brown was at fault, his family should not benefit.”

    I completely agree with this.

    This is an example of what dumbing down creates – cowardly idiots not willing to stand up for what’s right and capitulation to mob justice.

    • I stand corrected: of course there is always a choice. I should have said that the city had no GOOD choices: the lawsuit constituted a form of extortion: pay up or we’ll rip the scab off of this ugly wound.

      I would have paid, in their position.

      • Jack Marshall wrote, “the city had no GOOD choices”, “the lawsuit constituted a form of extortion”, “I would have paid, in their position.”

        I would have made a different choice, I would have fought them to the bitter end and I would have won.

        For me, there is something that overshadows everything else in this and that’s the morale of the Ferguson Police Department. The city just sent a strong message to the Police Department, and the public at large, that when the City is pushed into a corner they will capitulate to mob justice and throw taxpayers and the morale of the Police Department under a damn bus even when the actions of the officer(s) that lead up to the capitulation were completely legal.

        The city just ripped the scab off of the ugly wound of low morale and the negative effects of that will likely be felt throughout their entire community.

        Again, if I were a Police Officer in the Ferguson Police Department, I’d get me and my family the hell out of Dodge City as fast as my dollars would carry me.

        • I agree with that, too. But Ferguson couldn’t win that suit.

          • Jack Marshall wrote, “Ferguson couldn’t win that suit.”

            The Ferguson Police Department and the Officer was in the right; why couldn’t Ferguson win the suit?

            I really don’t understand this one.

            • Eternal optometrist

              Of course it was ethical to pay. Civil lawsuits are about maximizing gain for the plaintiff and minimizing loss for the defendant. I assume that the settlement amount was far less than the cost of defense. Fighting it to the bitter end, even if the city won, would be a loss to the taxpayers.

              Besides, there are no guarantees in a jury trial, even if one side is “right.” The city had an ethical duty to settle.

            • Because juries feel sympathy for mothers, and black juries really feel sympathy for black mothers whose children get shot, whether it’s the children’s own fault or not. A jury would probably give damages just because Brown’s body was left in the street so long.

              • Jack Marshall wrote, “Because juries feel sympathy for mothers, and black juries really feel sympathy for black mothers whose children get shot, whether it’s the children’s own fault or not. A jury would probably give damages just because Brown’s body was left in the street so long.”

                I really don’t get this.

                This was a “wrongful death” suit. “If Wilson was not wrong, then Brown was at fault. If Brown was at fault, his family should not benefit”.
                Wilson was not wrong so there was no wrongful death! Case closed!

                I feel sympathy for the mother too, her son is dead and that’s gotta hurt down deep; but so what, the case was a wrongful death suit not a suffering anguish suit, there was no wrongful death!

                Do we had wads of cash to every grieving family that has a violent son or daughter who’s own criminal violence got them killed for putting the life of a police officer in jeopardy? This sounds like a nice retirement nest egg for parents that don’t raise their children to be responsible non-violent non-criminal people. I’d call this settlement a parenting participation trophy.

                What the hell happened to right and wrong?

    • wyogranny

      This makes me wonder if a Ferguson police officer can get a job somewhere else. Especially in a department in a progressive stronghold.

  7. dragin_dragon

    The whole point of settling is two-fold. First, and the only real reason for offering a settlement, is that you might lose the court case. Thus, in settling you can add the phrase “…admitting no wrong-doing…”, so they aren’t guilty of anything. This leads me to the second reason; avoiding the negative publicity associated with such a suit. Unfortunately, there is a major cost associated with defending such a suit, so if you can settle for less than it would cost to defend, there ‘ya go. Having said that, however, it would be nice to see somebody who was obviously going to win say “Nope. We did nothing wrong (Ferguson), so we’ll take it to court and you’ll get nothing.” As a side-bar, had Ferguson won (they would have), somebody else would have paid the Brown’s legal fees, so they had nothing to lose. My guess…somebody talked them into the suit in the first place, and the Ferguson City Attorney had no intention of fighting the case from the get-go. After all, he gets paid on an hourly basis, so he stood to gain nothing from fighting it. As far as putting it in the rear-view, which looks better for Ferguson; settling, or fighting it and winning? I know where I’d cast my vote, if Ferguson could have gotten a change of venue, or were willing to appeal.

  8. This comment on another blog illustrates the controversy.

    http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2017/06/robert-farago/colion-noir-philando-castile-alive-today/#comment-3479968

    What we have today is a confluence of sociopathic narratives.

    On the one hand, we have Black Lives Matter who believe that young, Black, male felons should be an unaccountable caste above the rest of society. To them, Michael Brown (and the Somali jihadi who ran over and tried to knife students at Ohio State) have a RIGHT to rob and murder. Anyone who disagrees is a “racist”.

    On the other, we have the police unions and their enablers who believe that ANYTHING a cop does is not just “justified”, but “HEROIC”, from drunkenly trying to kick a barmaid to death, to ineptly shooting a mental health technician while trying to slaughter an autistic young man playing with a toy truck. Anyone who disagrees is a “cop hater”.

    The students at Ohio State, the cops in Dallas, Darren Wilson, Margie Carranza, Emma Hernandez, David Perdue, and Akai Gurley? They’re just “collateral damage”.

    The sociopaths have rushed the stage and forced the normal people off. The FOP and Black Lives Matter are perfect photographic negatives of each other. Only those within their respective magic chalk circles differ.

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