Cristian Stevens
Cristian Stevens ()

The former assistant U.S. attorney who led the 2014 federal investigation into Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri, is leaving public service for Big Law.

Cristian Stevens, 43, spent the past 15 years as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Missouri. Earlier this week, St. Louis-based Armstrong Teasdale announced that it had hired Stevens as a litigation partner in its home city.

“It’s an exciting time for me,” Stevens said Thursday. “It’s a new chapter after a long time at the U.S. attorney’s office.”

Stevens, who began his legal career as an associate at Bryan Cave, joined the U.S. Department of Justice’s local branch office in 2002. Since then he has federally prosecuted violent crimes, including homicides, as well as white-collar offenses and civil rights violations.

“The work that we were doing there can be very compelling, but I felt it was time to do something else,” Stevens said.

About a year ago, Stevens was thrust into the national spotlight following the August 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis. Stevens led the federal investigation into determining the circumstances surrounding the shooting and whether or not to charge Wilson with a crime.

“It was an experience like no other, as you can imagine,” Stevens said.

The case immediately became national news. The Black Lives Matter movement, founded after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, another African American teenager, was one of many groups that organized protests across the nation and in Ferguson after Brown’s shooting.

“In a lot of ways the shooting investigation itself, determining the facts and whether charges would be filed, was typical in a way,” Stevens recalled. “What was atypical was the social unrest and the very intense media scrutiny.”

Ultimately, a grand jury chose not to bring an indictment over Brown’s death and the Justice Department did not file charges against Wilson for civil rights violations. The findings of Stevens’ investigation were summarized in an 86-page report released by the Justice Department in March 2015, an analysis considered by many a definitive account of Brown’s death.

In his transition to private practice, Stevens hopes to build a litigation practice that will keep him in court, as well as conduct investigations for his future clients.

“What I see my role as, and what I think the firm sees my role as, is being able to immediately step in and try cases for clients or argue their appeals,” Stevens said. “Even though it’s the first week, I already have several matters with other partners at the firm where I’ll be working with them on pending appeals and potential trials that will be coming up.”

Like many large firms starting off 2017, Armstrong Teasdale has been active on the lateral hiring front. The firm recently recruited Patricia Churchill, a former chief legal counsel to ex-Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, as of counsel in St. Louis and director of regulatory affairs for its subsidiary AT Government Strategies LLC.

In Denver, where Armstrong Teasdale opened an office in 2014, the firm snagged labor and employment partner Vance Knapp from leading local shop Sherman & Howard.