The Oregon District Attorney Association is taking heat from criminal justice reform advocates for inviting a controversial speaker to its summer conference two weeks ago.
The organization invited St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, who handled the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. McCulloch's presentation was ill-received by some of the Oregon county prosecutors in the audience, many of whom walked out and refused to attend his keynote speech later in the evening.
Many criminal justice advocates questioned the motivation behind inviting such a controversial figure to be the keynote speaker at the conference.
"The fact that they flew him in as keynote suggests they want to move in a very troubling direction," says David Rogers, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. "Although, I will say it provides some relief that some attending prosecutors and district attorneys thought that his presence was disturbing and abhorrent."
In his presentation, McCulloch criticized the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Lives Matter and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. One attendee says McCulloch showed a photo of four or five young black people standing together and said: "This is what we're dealing with."
ODAA explained its choice by emphasizing the conference was focused on grand juries. McCulloch handled a case where the grand jury decision was fraught with controversy and followed by a U.S. Justice Department review.
"We invited St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch to talk about the events of Ferguson and specifically the grand jury process," says ODAA president and Baker County District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff. "One of the primary goals of the conference was to learn more about grand jury issues with the passage of SB 505 and grand jury recordation. Mr. McCulloch has been invited to give this presentation dozens of times throughout the country over the last several years. As Prosecutors, we see and address controversial and difficult issues every day and this topic is no different."
However, Shirtcliff says ODAA did not anticipate that some attendees would find McCulloch's presentation offensive.
"If there were aspects of Mr. McCulloch's presentation that were offensive to anyone, that certainly was not the intent of ODAA in extending the invitation for Mr. McCulloch to present on this topic," he says. "I believe it is important for all prosecutors to learn all we can from the experiences of others. We will continue to strive to address, discuss and face important and challenging issues and utilize these as educational opportunities for our membership."