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Eric Holder: Federal civil rights case against Ferguson cop will continue

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Attorney General Eric Holder said late Monday night that the Justice Department's civil rights investigation into the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown would continue, even after a grand jury declined to indict the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who fired the shots.

"[T]he Justice Department's investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown remains ongoing," Holder said. "Even at this mature stage of the investigation, we have avoided prejudging any of the evidence."

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 8.48.22 AM Attorney General Eric Holder says his ongoing civil rights investigation into the Ferguson, Mo. shooting will continue, despite the failure of a grand jury to indict the officer to shot 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Image: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

"And although federal civil rights law imposes a high legal bar in these types of cases, we have resisted forming premature conclusions," he added.

The Justice Department opened up a separate civil rights investigation into the shooting in August, and said it would be run by lawyers from the department's Civil Rights Division. In this case, the Justice Department would have to find that Office Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Brown, singled out Brown because of his race and purposefully violated his civil rights.

But testimony released by the grand jury Monday night indicates the Justice Department may have a hard time finding that race was a factor in Brown's death.

According to testimony from several witnesses, Brown, a black teen, was stopped by Wilson, a white police officer, who suspected Brown had just robbed a convenience store. Several witnesses said Brown approached Wilson's vehicle and punched Wilson in the face, after which the officer drew his gun.

Brown then grabbed the gun, and a few shots were fired before Brown fled down the street. Witnesses have different testimony about whether Wilson fired his weapon while Brown was fleeing.

But witnesses agree that Brown turned around and charged Wilson, which prompted Wilson to fire at Brown. He died on the street from those last shots.

The Justice Department is still considering whether to bring federal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida — another sign of how difficult it can be to bring these charges.

The Justice Department has also opened up a second investigation into whether police in Missouri routinely violate the civil rights of blacks in the state.

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