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Prosecutor Visit Divides Saint Louis University Law School

ST. LOUIS — An upcoming law school lecture by St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch is drawing criticism from some Saint Louis University students and professors who object to his handling of the investigation of Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson.

McCulloch is set to speak at a Feb. 20 law school event billed at addressing police after Ferguson. He’ll be joined at the student law review symposium by County Police Chief Jon Belmar and social scientists from five other universities, including American, South Carolina and Wake Forest.

Members of the Black Law Students Association and others have asked the school’s dean, former state Supreme Court chief justice Michael Wolff, to rescind the invitation. They point to legal and ethics challenges to McCulloch’s tactics before a grand jury that declined to indict former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson, who is White, in the August death of Brown, 18, who was Black and unarmed.

McCulloch has acknowledged calling witnesses whom he said “clearly lied” to the grand jury, including a woman who claimed to have seen Brown charge at Wilson. The elected prosecutor and two assistants also face a disciplinary complaint alleging that they provided grand jurors with improper instructions on the legal standards for use of force by police.

“One of the first things we learn is you don’t put a witness on the stand that you know is lying,” said third-year law student Christina Vogel, who volunteered as a legal observer at the frequent protests that followed Brown’s death.

Vogel and others plan to share their concerns at a university meeting on Monday, which is also the six-month anniversary of Brown’s death.

School President Fred Pestello has cited academic freedom in defending the decision to bring McCulloch to campus.

“These conversations need to happen—and SLU needs to be a place that supports and contributes to them—if we are to improve the quality of life for everyone in our region,” he said in an email to students, faculty and staff.

Wolff said in an interview that the school has no intention of rescinding the invitation. He noted that student organizers, not administrators, invited McCulloch, who is expected to answer audience questions for 25 minutes after his 35-minute talk.

The Jesuit school was the site of a six-day campus takeover by police shooting protesters in October. They left after the university said it would spend more money on the school’s African-American Studies program and work to increase Black student retention.

“The reality is, the university has done a lot to be a part of the solution,” said law professor Brendan Roediger, who opposes McCulloch’s appearance. “This undoes a lot of that work.”

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