Wesley Bell, a reform-minded City Council member from Ferguson, Mo., declared victory in the Democratic primary for St. Louis County prosecutor Tuesday evening, saying he had ousted the longtime incumbent Robert P. McCulloch, who came under national scrutiny for his handling of the investigation into the 2014 shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer.
Mr. Bell led Mr. McCulloch by more than 13 points with all precincts reporting, bringing an end to Mr. McCulloch’s 27-year run as the county’s top elected prosecutor. There is no Republican candidate in the November general election, so Mr. Bell, 43, will most likely be a lock for the seat.
On Aug. 9, 2014, a white police officer named Darren Wilson shot and killed a black teenager named Michael Brown in Ferguson, igniting weeks of chaos and uprisings in the city that griped the nation’s attention.
After a grand jury declined to bring charges against Mr. Wilson, Mr. McCulloch, 67, faced allegations that he was too close to law enforcement officials in the area to properly oversee the investigation. He has repeatedly defended his handling of the case, but in St. Louis and on social media on Tuesday, criminal justice advocates reveled in his defeat.
Color of Change PAC, a national network focused on electing more reform-minded prosecutors in the wake of recent national activist movements against police brutality, celebrated Mr. Bell’s success.
“While Wesley Bell’s victory may come as a shock to many around the country, it’s no surprise to the Color of Change PAC or to many in the black community,” said Rashad Robinson, the network’s spokesman. “This ousting of a 27-year incumbent shows the country what black voters have demonstrated for decades — that we demand to be heard and that we will make criminal justice reform a ballot-box issue in 2018 and beyond.”
Mr. McCulloch did not respond to a request for comment.
In an interview last week, Mr. Bell said he would have handled the investigation into Mr. Brown’s killing differently than Mr. McCulloch, and promised to appoint a special prosecutor in police shooting cases. The prosecutor’s office and police departments often enjoy friendly relationships, he said, making it difficult to be transparent in such cases.
“If you tell me, ‘Hey your friend just committed a crime,’ it’s just natural that you’re just going to doubt it,” Mr. Bell said in the interview.
He also promised to change the county’s cash bail system, and implement diversionary programs so that low-level, nonviolent offenders are not incarcerated. Mr. Bell said it would serve the double effect of helping crime rates while reducing prison population.
Before Tuesday’s voting, he was also confident he would prevail.
“He’s a paper tiger,” Mr. Bell said of Mr. McCulloch.
Matthew Haag contributed reporting.