Grand Jury Does Not Charge Ferguson Officer in Michael Brown Shooting

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NewZNew (Clayton, Mo.) :  A St. Louis County grand jury has brought no criminal charges against Darren Wilson, a white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, more than three months ago in nearby Ferguson.

At a news conference, the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, said that members of the grand jury deliberated for more than two days before finding that no probable cause existed to file charges against Wilson.

The decision set off a new wave of anger among hundreds who gathered outside the Ferguson Police Department. Police in riot gear stood in a line as demonstrators chanted and threw signs and other objects toward them as the news spread. One woman said: “The system failed us again.”

Brown’s family issued a statement expressing sadness but calling for peaceful protest and a campaign for body cameras on police officers nationwide.

“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” the statement said. “While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”

McCulloch said that over 25 days, the grand jury heard more than 70 hours of testimony from 60 witnesses, including three medical examiners. In its deliberations, the grand jury considered five possible charges ranging from first degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.

He declined to release the vote of the grand jury, which was made up of nine whites and three blacks, saying that the process was secret.

The killing, on a residential street in Ferguson, set off civil unrest – and a national debate – fueled by protesters’ outrage over what they called a pattern of police brutality against young black men.

The St. Louis area has been steeped in anxiety as it waited for the decision by the grand jury, which had been meeting on the case since Aug. 20. Around the region, law enforcement authorities were on alert Monday, and the Missouri National Guard stood by as word of the decision began leaking out; political leaders, including Gov. Jay Nixon, held last-minute meetings with community members; and residents, including parents of schoolchildren, braced for what might come next.

As darkness fell and word of the decision in the case spread, a growing, tense group of hundreds of protesters gathered outside Ferguson Police Headquarters as a line of police officers stood watch nearby. Many of protesters stood in the middle of the street, and all traffic was blocked. Some people wore masks.

“Whose streets! Our streets!” some chanted. “We’ve got to fight back!”

Protesters were listening to the prosecutor’s statement on radios throughout the crowd. While the prosecutor was speaking, Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, and stepfather, Louis Head, stepped onto a platform where protest leaders were standing.

With a stern look on her face, McSpadden yelled frustrated responses to what the prosecutor was saying.

“Defend himself from what!” she yelled, when the prosecutor spoke of Wilson defending himself. She added that this was a joke.

“They wrong,” she yelled, pointing toward the police officers standing outside of the station.

They still don’t care,” she said. McSpadden then sank her head into her husband’s chest and wept vigorously.

Law enforcement authorities had been on alert in preparation for unrest if no indictment was returned. Even before the decision was announced, National Guard troops were dispatched to a police command post; political leaders, including Gov. Jay Nixon, flew here to hold last-minute meetings with community members; schools closed for the week; and businesses and residents, including parents of schoolchildren, braced for what might come next.
Nixon, who had declared a state of emergency and called up the Missouri National Guard last week, called for peace and calm in a news conference Monday several hours before the decision was announced.

“Our shared hope and expectation is that regardless of the decision people on all sides show tolerance, mutual respect and restraint,” he said.

Charlie A. Dooley, the St Louis county executive, who appeared with Nixon, said, “Now is the time to show the world that we can act without being destructive.”

Yet many here questioned why the authorities would announce the decision in the evening, rather than waiting for daylight hours. Furious, sometimes violent, demonstrations and tense clashes with the police took place late into the night for several weeks in August, and some law enforcement officers had urged a daytime announcement. Over a period of weeks, many leaders here had suggested that a Sunday morning announcement would be best, but the grand jury finished its work on Monday. Asked about the timing, Nixon said it had been the choice of McCulloch.

Many of the elaborate plans for how the grand jury’s decision would be released – including 48-hour notice for the police after the decision – appeared to have been scrapped. The family of Brown, the 18-year-old who was killed by Wilson on Aug. 9, was notified by prosecutors in the afternoon, after some reports had already appeared on television and online. A lawyer for the family expressed frustration that they had not been told sooner.

Wilson, who largely vanished from public view after the shooting, has spent the last several days in a state of nervous anticipation, those close to him said, and had prepared for the possibility of being indicted. Last week, Wilson met with Jeff Roorda, an official with Shield of Hope, a charitable foundation for police officers that had offered to provide him with bail money, should it be needed. And his lawyers spoke with officials in the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office to discuss how Wilson would turn himself in. A tentative plan, people close to Wilson said, was that he would be quietly brought to the courthouse in Clayton, accompanied by his lawyers, and post bond.

The Brown family has, by contrast, traveled widely to speak about their son’s death, including appearing at the BET Hip Hop Awards, meeting with United Nations officials in Geneva and talking with protesters near the spot where Brown was killed.

Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., handed out turkeys to needy families over the weekend, and has filmed a public service announcement urging calm once the grand jury decision is announced. The parents have been pushing for what supporters have called the Michael Brown Law, which would require officers to wear body cameras.

The St. Louis area has been steeped in anxiety as it has waited for a decision by the grand jury, which has been meeting on this case since Aug. 20. Residents and business owners have said that if Wilson is not indicted, they fear an immediate repeat of the protests that roiled Ferguson in August.

As the news of the decision spread, school officials were deciding whether to open schools on Tuesday. At least one district canceled after-school and evening activities, and at least four school districts announced they would not hold classes on Tuesday.

All around, there were signs of businesses closing at the prospect of trouble. At least two area malls, including the St. Louis Galleria and the Plaza Frontenac, closed early on Monday evening. In Clayton, a police memorial was covered, some mailboxes were locked shut and a bakery was closed Monday near the St. Louis County justice center, where the Ferguson grand jury has been meeting.

And in Ferguson, along West Florissant Avenue, not far from where Brown was killed, a small crowd had gathered outside the McDonald’s, young men paced up and down the sidewalks and TV news trucks had set up in business parking lots and even on one residential driveway. A few blocks away, in the neighboring suburb of Jennings, dozens of police cars were lined up behind a grocery store in an area that serves as a law enforcement command center. There were many more police vehicles visible than a day earlier.

In August, night after night, protesters had marched down this commercial strip of West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, and police officers responded in force, using tear gas and rubber bullets. Although most protesters were peaceful, others turned violent, burning a convenience store and throwing gasoline bombs. The images of disorder in a small Midwestern town drew worldwide attention and prompted a plea for calm from President Barack Obama.

Another investigation, a federal civil rights inquiry into the case, continues. Federal officials have said that while their investigation is continuing, the evidence so far does not support such a case against Wilson. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has said he expects the investigation to be completed before he leaves office, which is likely to be late this year or early next year. A second federal investigation, which is likely to take longer, is examining whether the Ferguson police have engaged in a pattern of civil rights violations.

Wilson took the unusual step of testifying before the grand jury, appearing for more than four hours on an afternoon in September to defend his actions, and he said he was convinced that his life was in danger.

Since August, Wilson has stayed close to St. Louis, reading news articles and following television coverage of the case, those close to him said. He has made no public statements or appearances. But he has given considerable thought to how he might begin to emerge from the shadows: He flirted with the idea of telling his story on television, holding off-the-record meetings with news anchors including Anderson Cooper of CNN who have courted him for interviews.

In a private ceremony in October, he married his fiancée, Barbara Spradling, also a Ferguson police officer, court records show. His lawyer and longtime family friend, Greg Kloeppel, stood witness. Wilson remains on paid administrative leave from the police department, but local officials said they expected that he would resign in the coming days.

Ferguson has had few days of calm since Aug. 9, the day Brown, a recent high school graduate, was killed.

At 11:48 a.m. that day, Wilson was on duty, responding to a call about a sick child who was having trouble breathing. Only a few blocks away, Brown and a friend, Dorian Johnson, were walking into Ferguson Market and Liquor, a convenience store on West Florissant Avenue.

Surveillance video released by the Ferguson Police Department showed Brown, wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap, white T-shirt and khaki shorts, stealing cigarillos and shoving a clerk who tried to stop him.

Brown and Johnson left the store about 11:54 a.m.

They headed in the direction of their homes, down a winding side street called Canfield Drive that is lined with low-rise apartment buildings with wooden balconies. Johnson and Brown walked down the middle of the street, usually quiet at that time of day, with only occasional traffic.

At 12:01 p.m., Wilson appeared on the scene, driving alone in his police vehicle. Through the driver’s side window of his Chevrolet Tahoe, he issued an order: Leave the street and walk on the sidewalk.

At this point, accounts differed widely. Johnson said Wilson reached through the open window and grabbed Brown by the neck, choking and pulling him. According to an account that Wilson gave to various authorities, Brown was the aggressor, punching him in the face and scratching him on the neck. Pinned in his vehicle, according to his statements to the authorities, Wilson feared for his life and, with his right hand, drew his gun from the holster.

As the two continued to struggle, Wilson fired the gun twice, forensic evidence revealed. One shot hit Brown in the hand, a county autopsy found.

One witness, Tiffany Mitchell, had stopped at an apartment complex to pick up a co-worker, Piaget Crenshaw, when she saw Wilson and Brown fighting at the vehicle door. To Mitchell, she said later, it appeared that the two were “arm-wrestling.”

Mitchell was reaching for her cellphone to record the confrontation when she saw Brown wriggle loose from Officer Wilson and begin to run away, she said.

Wilson left the car, pursued Brown on foot and continued to fire.

Two construction workers who were on Canfield Drive at the time said in interviews with the news media that they had seen Brown with his hands up when he was shot. One of the workers said “the officer was chasing him.” Other witnesses said Brown had turned around and was moving toward Wilson.

One witness, Michael T. Brady, a janitor who lives nearby, said in an interview that he had seen Brown shot in the head while in a bent-down position.

Wilson said Brown had been running toward him when he fired the fatal shots. Autopsies revealed that Brown had been shot at least six times. The entire encounter lasted just 90 seconds, police radio communications show.

Legal experts say police officers typically have wide latitude to use deadly force when they feel their safety is threatened.

The grand jury’s meetings took place over almost three months in a county building in Clayton, Missouri, outside St. Louis. Two assistant county prosecutors, Sheila Whirley and Kathi Alizadeh, presented the evidence.

McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, directed his staff to present “absolutely everything” to the grand jury, meaning that the jurors would see and hear more evidence than they would have normally.

He was under considerable pressure in the case, facing widespread calls to recuse himself and be replaced by a special prosecutor after opponents cited what they called flawed investigations in the past involving police officers.

In the event the jury does not indict Wilson, McCulloch has said he plans to release audio recordings and transcripts of the grand jury proceedings.