Grand Jury Does Not Indict Ferguson Police Officer

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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A 12-person grand jury has decided not indict to Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, district attorney Bob McCulloch announced Monday.

The grand jury, which has met in secret since August, was considering whether to charge Wilson, a six-year police veteran, with charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter up to first-degree murder.

An indictment of Wilson would have required at least nine members of the grand jury to find probable cause that Wilson committed a crime. The grand jury, which was selected by a judge months ahead of the shooting, was made up of six white men, three white women, two black women, and one black man. The demographic distribution will likely figure prominently in discussions of the case, which has gained widespread media attention as protesters believe that Brown was targeted because he was black. The 28-year-old Wilson is white.

The incident in question unfolded on Aug. 9 when Wilson crossed paths with Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, shortly after noon.

Wilson had just left a sick call, while Brown and Johnson had just left a nearby convenience store where they had stolen cigars. Video surveillance taken from the store showed Brown shoving a shop owner.

When Wilson drove up on the pair, he asked them to move out of the middle of the street. He was not aware of the convenience store incident at the time.

But as Wilson began to drive off he received a police dispatch call reporting the convenience store robbery providing descriptions which matched Brown and Johnson.

Wilson reversed his police cruiser to confront the pair. He reportedly told investigators that Brown shoved him back into the vehicle. Johnson has claimed that Wilson was choking Brown. (RELATED: Video Shows Michael Brown Stealing Cigars From Store Before Shooting)

Wilson reportedly claimed that he shot at the 6-foot-five-inch, 300-pound Brown after he punched the officer in the face and was reaching for his service weapon. The gun was fired inside the cruiser one or two times. One forensic pathologist who analyzed the official autopsy conducted on Brown claimed that forensic evidence suggested that Brown was shot from a very short distance.

Brown bolted from the car when Wilson’s gun fired. The officer followed Brown while firing his weapon. Brown turned around at some point during the gunfire. Autopsies showed that six bullets struck Brown, all from the front of the body.

Wilson reportedly claimed that Brown was moving towards him when the fatal shots were fired. Johnson and other witnesses who have spoken to the media said that Brown was in some state of surrender when Wilson fired.

Protesters have latched on to the claim that Brown was holding his hands up in surrender and yelling  “Don’t shoot.”

Two autopsies, one conducted by a St. Louis County medical examiner and another by an examiner hired by the Brown family, showed that the shots that killed Brown struck him in the top of the head. Neither autopsy suggested that Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot. (RELATED: Autopsy Analysis: Michael Brown Was Shot In Hand While Reaching For Gun)

There was some indication that Wilson would not be indicted for the shooting. Last month, numerous law enforcement officials leaked details of the investigation to various news outlets. One such leak was that as many as seven or eight African-American eyewitnesses to the shooting gave testimony to the grand jury that supported Wilson’s version of events. The witnesses were reportedly afraid of coming forward in the days after the shooting to speak to the media. (RELATED: Report: African-American Witnesses Support Wilson’s Claims But Are Afraid To Come Forward)

Other leaks indicated early on that there was not enough evidence to charge Wilson in a federal civil rights investigation that the Justice Department began in September.

Eyewitnesses’ claims about what they saw during the shooting was not the only cause of protesters’ outrage.

They also criticized how the police have handled the release of information in the case and also how they have responded to protests.

A vigil held the day after the shooting developed into a protest and later escalated into looting and violence. A convenience store was heavily looted and burned to the ground as protesters grew angry over law enforcement’s refusal to release the name of the shooter. (RELATED: Michael Brown Did Not Have Hands Up When Shot)

Because of that unrest, Ferguson police responded in the following days with a heavier presence which involved military-grade vehicles, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Other local police agencies were brought on to aid the effort over the course of the next several days.

Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson has been heavily criticized for the timing of his release of certain information from the investigation. When he identified Wilson’s identity at a press conference held on the Friday after the shooting, Jackson also released details of Brown’s strong-arm robbery at the convenience store.

Many protesters questioned the timing of the release, saying that it was meant to demonize Brown. Jackson told reporters that Missouri’s open records laws required it to turn over the information. But follow-up investigations into that claim suggested that little force had been applied on the department at that point.

Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson in August saying he was concerned by the police response to the protests. Shortly after that visit, the Justice Department announced two investigations — one into whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights and another into whether the Ferguson police department has exhibited a pattern of civil rights violations.

Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies began preparing weeks in advance for Monday’s outcome. Last week, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced a state of emergency for Ferguson. He also approved the use of the Missouri National Guard to assist local law enforcement.

At a press conference held about an hour before the grand jury decision announcement, Nixon reiterated pleas for peaceful protests. It remains to be seen if protesters will comply.

During his press conference to announce the grand jury’s decision, McCulloch said that the grand jury heard 70 hours of testimony from around 60 witnesses. He made a point of detailing the differences in the testimonies of many of the witnesses. He said that Brown’s blood or DNA was found on Wilson’s shirt collar, on Wilson’s gun, and inside the police cruiser.

McCulloch also told reporters that some witnesses changed their stories during the course of the investigation. He also announced that evidence presented during the grand jury proceeding will be released soon.

This article has been updated to provide more details provided by McCulloch during his press conference. 

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