A grand jury in St. Louis County has decided not to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson with a crime for the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old black man.
The jury of three black and nine white members had been hearing evidence on the shooting since Aug. 20. In a change from normal grand jury proceedings, prosecutors in St. Louis County chose to present nearly all the evidence they had available. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch had promised to make that evidence public if the grand jury chose not to indict. In addition, the grand jury considered a range of criminal charges, from first-degree murder to manslaughter.
"The physical and scientific evidence, combined with the witness statements, supported and substantiated by that physical evidence tells the accurate and tragic story about what happened," read, from a prepared statement. "After their exhaustive review of the evidence, the grand jury deliberated over two days, making their final decision. They determined that no probable cause exists to file any charge against Officer Wilson."
McCulloch could not disclose the final vote of the grand jury and he provided no other information about its makeup, except to say that the judges who pick grand juries try to make sure that all demographics from St. Louis County are represented.
The grand jury process was controversial from the beginning. Protesters demanded that McCulloch recuse himself from the case. They claimed he could not be impartial because his father was a police officer killed in the line of duty by a black man in 1964. McCulloch refused to step back, and Gov. Jay Nixon chose not to appoint a special prosecutor. The process was also plagued by information leaks about the case, although McCulloch's office insisted the grand jury was not the source.
McCulloch said he does not regret taking the case through the grand jury, despite complaints that the process was too secretive.
"These grand jurors poured their hearts and souls into the process," he said. "It was a very emotional process for them. To suggest that somehow it's not a full and fair process is unfair to these people."
McCulloch said the grand jury heard a total of 70 hours of testimony from 60 witnesses, including three medical examiners, over 25 separate days. He said all 12 grand jurors were present every day they convened.
"They are the only people who have heard and examined every piece of evidence," he said. "I'm ever mindful that this decision will not be accepted by some, and may cause disappointment for others, but all decisions in the criminal justice system must be determined by the physical and scientific evidence, and credible testimony corroborated by that evidence, not in response to public outcry or for political expediency."
McCulloch provided this brief rundown of the events that led up to the fatal shooting – a span that covered no more than 20 minutes.
- Around 11:45 am on August 9, Wilson was dispatched to the Northwinds apartment complex, behind Canfield Green to respond to an infant who was having trouble breathing.
- About 10 minutes later, while Wilson was still at the medical call, the police radio announced a stealing in progress at a local market. The suspect was described as a black male wearing a white T-shirt. Other officers responded to that call.
- As Wilson was leaving the medical call, dispatch broadcast additional information about the suspect in the stealing – that he was wearing a red hat, khaki shorts, yellow socks, with another male. That suspect turned out to be Michael Brown. The friend with him was Dorian Johnson.
- Brown and Johnson were walking back from the market in the middle of Canfield Dr. around the time Wilson was leaving his medical call. Wilson encounterd them, and told them to get on the sidewalk. Dorian Johnson said in repeated interviews that Wilson told them to “get the f- on the sidewalk.”
- As Brown and Johnson keep walking, Wilson realized that Brown is holding cigarillos, and that he matches the description of the stealing suspect.
- Just after noon, Wilson radioed that he has two individuals on Canfield, and requested back-up. He then backed his vehicle up to block off traffic and Johnson and Brown’s path.
- Some kind of altercation took place at the vehicle. Two shots were fired inside the car. Mike Brown ran east on Canfield Dr. (away from W. Florissant, the direction in which he was originally headed.) Wilson gave chase
- At the corner of Canfield and Copper Creek Road, Brown stopped and turned back toward Wilson. Wilson also stopped.
- Brown moved toward Wilson, who fired several more shots, including the fatal one. Wilson fired 12 bullets in all. Six or seven hit Brown.
- Within seconds of the final shot, the assist car arrives.
The encounter between Wilson and Brown lasted no more than 90 seconds, McCulloch said.
The grand jury heard from several witnesses, McCulloch said, some of whom contradicted their own earlier statements. Many also could not fit with the physical evidence, which showed Brown’s blood and DNA were found in various locations in the car, including:
- Outside of the driver’s door
- Outside of driver-side passenger door
- Inside of the driver’s door.
- Upper left thigh of Wilson’s pant leg
- Front collar of Wilson’s shirt
- Wilson’s weapon
One of the bullets fired inside the police car was fired downward at the arm rest, McCulloch said. The second bullet was not recovered.
All three autopsies were in basic agreement as to Mike Brown’s injuries.
- Graze wound on his right thumb. Soot was present inside the wound, consistent with a close range.
- Graze wound on his right bicep
- Gunshot to his right forearm
- Gunshot to his upper right front arm
- Gunshot to his lateral right chest
- Gunshot to his upper right chest
- Gunshot to the forehead
- Gunshot to the top of the head.
The top of the head, forehead and perhaps the upper right chest shots indicated Brown was likely bent forward at the waist, McCulloch said. Except for the first wound (the thumb graze) and the last wound (likely the top of the head), McCulloch said the medical examiners were unable to determine the order of the shots.
Wilson’s medical exam, McCulloch said, showed some bruising and swelling of the face.
Throughout his 45-minute press conference, McCulloch emphasized again and again that numerous eyewitnesses contradicted both themselves and the physical evidence, with some admitting they were simply repeating what they had heard in the neighborhood. But he said he is unlikely to pursue perjury charges.
"The ones who were consistent with their story throughout, even in the face of their testimony being in conflict with the physical evidence, I truly believe that that's what they saw," he said. "Some of the others were making it up, but they all pretty much acknowledged that they saw some part and made up others."
As promised, McCulloch made the evidence available for public review, despite questions about whether he had the authority to do so without an order from St. Louis County judge Carolyn Whittington.
"Basically, it's now a closed investigation, which makes it an open file," McCulloch said.
The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a parallel criminal investigation into Brown’s death, and also looking into the policies and practices of the Ferguson police department in a separate civil investigation. A spokeswoman for the department’s civil rights division said both of those investigations are ongoing. McCulloch said he had no inside information about those probes, but said the federal and state investigators were sharing evidence from the very beginning.
Wilson has been on paid leave since the shooting. The Ferguson Police Department did not immediately respond when asked about his status with the department.
Within minutes after McCulloch announced that the grand jury decision, reaction from both Brown's family and representatives of Wilson were released.
An attorney for Brown’s family released a statement stating they are “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.”
The statement was released while St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch was still reading his statement on the decision by the grand jury not to indict Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in Brown's shooting death.
The family reiterated that people upset over the decision should express themselves without violence, saying in the statement that "answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction."
"While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change,” the Brown family statement read. “We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”
“Let's not just make noise, let's make a difference,” the statement concluded.
Reports from the scene outside the Ferguson Police Department Monday night described Brown’s mother Lesley McSpadden crying after hearing the grand jury’s decision.
Meanwhile, in a statement received by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Christine Byers, Wilson’s attorneys wrote that “law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions. Office Wilson followed his training and followed the law.”
“We recognize that many people will want to second-guess the grand jury’s decision,” the statement said. “We would encourage anyone who wants to express an opinion do so in a respectful and peaceful manner.”
The statement went onto say that Wilson “would like to thank those who have stood by his side throughout the process.”
“Moving forward, any commentary on this matter will be done in the appropriate venue and not through the media,” the attorneys stated.”
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