JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Following a fatal police shooting that has fueled weeks of protests, Missouri lawmakers could consider legislation that would remove local prosecutors from decisions about whether to charge police involved in deadly shootings.
State Rep. Jay Barnes said he plans to file legislation during 2015 session that would give the state attorney general's office the responsibility for determining whether charges should be filed against law enforcement officers who fatally shoot people.
"There's an inevitable appearance of bias in a case where a prosecutor has to decide whether to take action against an officer who works for an agency that prosecutor works hand-in-hand with every single day," Barnes, a Republican attorney from Jefferson City, said Monday.
The proposal comes in response to the handling of the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in suburban St. Louis. The shooting of the black 18-year-old by the white officer sparked protests that have at times led to violent clashes with police.
Hundreds were gathering Monday in the St. Louis area for continued protests.
Missouri law currently allows two avenues for outside prosecutors: The local prosecutor can ask for help from the governor, who can appoint the state attorney general's office to the case; or a court can appoint a special prosecutor if the elected one has a conflict of interest.
Police shootings don't automatically qualify as conflicts of interest and often are handled by local prosecutors.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch has been presenting evidence to a grand jury to decide whether to charge Wilson for Brown's death.
Democratic U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. and state Sens. Maria Chappelle-Nadal and Jamilah Nasheed -- all of St. Louis -- have been among those unsuccessfully urging McCulloch to step aside from the case because of his family connections to police agencies. McCulloch's father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for St. Louis' police department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.
McCulloch has defended his ability to remain impartial.
Barnes said having local prosecutors handle police shootings not only can create a public perception of bias on behalf of police but, if there are charges, could potentially strain the prosecutor's working relationship with police agencies.
In general, "we want prosecutors and law enforcement officers to work on the same page," Barnes said.