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Lawsuits seek Ferguson victim's juvenile records

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  • Lingering questions about Michael Brown could be answered Wednesday as two news organizations seek the release of any possible juvenile records for the unarmed 18-year-old who was shot by a police officer last month.

      Lingering questions about Michael Brown could be answered Wednesday as two news organizations seek the release of any possible juvenile records for the unarmed 18-year-old who was shot by a police officer last month.
    Associated Press file photo

 
By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER
Associated Press

CLAYTON, Mo. -- Lingering questions about Michael Brown could be answered Wednesday when a judge considers two media requests to release any possible juvenile records of the unarmed 18-year-old who was killed by a Missouri police officer last month.

Juvenile records are confidential in Missouri, so it's not known if Brown was arrested before he legally became an adult. Police have said Brown had no adult criminal record. The family's attorney, Benjamin Crump, has refused to discuss whether Brown had a juvenile record.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a California online journalist asked St. Louis County Family Court to determine whether Brown had past legal trouble. Both cite an overriding public right to know Brown's background after his shooting death by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson sparked more than a week of sometimes-violent protests and drew international scrutiny.

The more basic argument boils down to the question of whether Brown's privacy rights extend beyond the grave.

The lawsuit by Charles C. Johnson of Fresno, California, cites a 1984 Missouri Court of Appeals ruling in which the juvenile records of an 18-year-old who was killed by a security guard while shoplifting at a supermarket in 1979 were released in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

That man's mother challenged a trial court's decision to release the records to defendants who were hoping to determine the 18-year-old's lost earning capacity.

"It certainly is not much of a stretch to go from the case law that exists right now to that theory," said Jean Maneke, who is counsel to the Missouri Press Association.

But Washington University law professor Mae Quinn, director of the school's juvenile law clinic, called the case cited by Johnson, editor-in-chief of the website GotNews.com, "completely irrelevant," since he does not have a vested legal interest in the Brown case.

"The biggest distinction is they were real parties to a real suit," she said, referring to the grocery store owners' successful challenge for the juvenile records. "There was a real dispute. That's a major distinction."

"The cited case in no way deals with release of records, much less release to a member of the general public," she added.

The efforts to obtain Brown's juvenile records -- if there are any -- have been criticized by some who say his past is irrelevant to the question of whether Wilson responded with excessive force.

A grand jury in another Clayton courtroom is also scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider that issue.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division is also investigating Wilson's fatal shooting of Brown.

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Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at http://twitter.com/azagier

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