Following the Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, critics observed that prosecutor Bob McCulloch acted more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor seeking an indictment. In doing so, he may have been channeling his younger brother.
LittleSis has learned that Joe McCulloch, who is an attorney, has represented several Missouri cops in high-profile police brutality cases. In at least two cases, he worked alongside current members of Darren Wilson’s legal team, and he takes legal referrals from Wilson’s union. Additionally, the McCullochs’ cousin, Thomas Moran, was at the center of a major police brutality case in the 1990s – he was charged in the beating of a 19-year-old developmentally-disabled black man, and acquitted by an all-white jury in Kansas City.
Critics calling for McCulloch’s recusal have previously pointed to his ties to the police through family members and the killing of his police officer father by a black robbery suspect. But his personal ties to police brutality cases raise additional questions about whether he was inappropriately biased in his handling of the Ferguson case.
Joe McCulloch became an attorney after retiring from the St. Louis police force, and appears to focus much of his legal practice on defending police officers in criminal and administrative cases. Some of this work has drawn him into close contact with members of Wilson’s defense team over the years. It must also provide interesting fodder for conversations with his prosecutor brother at family gatherings.
In 2006, for instance, he teamed up with Jim Towey, now an attorney for Darren Wilson, to represent Nicholas Forler, a Lincoln County deputy sheriff who had shot and killed two unarmed white men. In a strange coincidence, one of the victims was named Michael Brown (other media outlets have reported on the case in recent months, but none have noted Joe McCulloch’s involvement). Forler had tried to pull over the pickup truck driven by the other victim, Tyler Teasley. Teasley, who was drinking and was concerned about a previous DUI, tried to elude him, eventually pulling into a driveway. When Forler pulled up and exited his vehicle, the truck, which was in neutral, started rolling back towards him, and he fired shots into the back window of the cab, killing Teasley and Brown. The case prompted repeated protests, though with none of the racial implications of the Ferguson case.
Unlike Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor actually recused himself in that case, and the investigation was handled by then-Attorney General Jay Nixon, who dragged his feet for six months before finally bringing manslaughter charges. Forler was acquitted.
Joe McCulloch’s relationship with Nixon may have helped Forler’s case. He made a series of contributions to Nixon’s campaign shortly after the indictment and while the case was still being tried, and Nixon later appointed him to a convention center commission in St. Charles County, on which he still serves.
McCulloch also worked alongside Greg Kloeppel, another member of Darren Wilson’s legal team, in a 2009 case. McCulloch represented two officers involved in the assault of a drug suspect in Montgomery county, and Kloeppel represented the other two officers charged in the case. Joe described the case as an “assault on police officers trying to do police work.” One of his clients, Christopher Hunt, was eventually found guilty of felony burglary and assault.
Joe McCulloch seems to acquire this kind of work in part through his relationship with Lodge 15 of the Fraternal Order of the Police, which represents police officers in Eastern Missouri. The St. Louis County Police Association lists him as one of Lodge 15’s referral attorneys on its legal aid page. Three of Darren Wilson’s four attorneys – Lodge 15 chief counsel Kloeppel, counsel Danielle Thompson, and Towey – are also listed on that page.
After the St. Louis County Police Association lashed out at the St. Louis Rams for its receiving corp’s “hands up, don’t shoot” protest, the site was attacked and is no longer online, but the google cache is.
Unsurprisingly, a charity associated with the St. Louis County Police Association was the vehicle for Wilson’s fundraising effort.
The prosecution of the McCullochs’ cousin, Thomas Moran, may have something to do with the trajectory of Joe McCulloch’s law career and Bob McCulloch’s reluctance to prosecute police brutality cases. Moran, then a sergeant in the St. Louis police department, was charged in the 1997 beating of 19-year-old black man, Gregory Bell. Bell was developmentally disabled and could not communicate with the officers who arrived at his home when a burglar alarm went off. Thinking he was a burglar, they sprayed him with pepper spray, beat him, and arrested him. Moran, the precinct supervisor, was one of the officers on the scene.
After protests and public outcry, Moran was indicted on criminal charges of felony assault, misdemeanor assault and conspiracy to hinder prosecution. The trial was moved at the request of the defense, after the prosecution failed to file a motion opposing the move (the prosecutor chalked this up to a “terrible mistake”). Moran was eventually acquitted by an all-white jury in Kansas City. Bob McCulloch was in the courtroom for part of the trial, and placed a congratulatory call to his cousin after the verdict was delivered.
After the acquittal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized that the outcome “reeks of injustice” and called for a DOJ investigation. The case is an important chapter in the history of St. Louis police brutality and race relations, but only Missouri Lawyers Weekly has noted the McCulloch tie-in.
In the federal civil rights case that Bell filed against Moran and other officers, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officers Association filed an amicus brief in support of the defendants. In doing so, the union was represented by Jim Towey, the Darren Wilson attorney mentioned above who worked with McCulloch’s brother, and Neil Bruntrager, currently the fourth member of Wilson’s legal team.
Two years after the Moran case, police officers shot and killed two unarmed black men in the parking lot of a Jack in the Box. The grand jury investigation was handled by Bob McCulloch, and ended up declining to indict the officers. According to the New York Daily News, that was the year that “McCulloch’s reputation as an unabashed defender of the police took root.”
It seems to have gone unreported at the time, or since, but the lawyer for the officers in that case, Chet Pleban, had successfully defended Moran just two years before. Perhaps McCulloch was repaying the favor.
It’s a small world. Or rather, it’s a small world for the white male lawyers who defend and prosecute police brutality in Missouri.
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