FERGUSON, Mo. — The police chief in the St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by police says the officer didn’t know the teen was a robbery suspect at the time of the shooting.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson earlier today released documents alleging 18-year-old Michael Brown had been suspected of stealing a $48.99 box of cigars from a convenience store in a “strong-arm” robbery shortly before he was killed.
During an afternoon news conference Jackson said the robbery “was not related to the initial contact” between the officer and Mr. Brown on Saturday.
He declined to elaborate as to why the officer stopped Brown and his friend, citing the ongoing investigation into the shooting.
Police today identified the officer as Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the Ferguson Police Department who encountered Mr. Brown shortly after a 911 call reporting the robbery.
Mr. Brown’s relatives immediately questioned whether the officer really believed Mr. Brown was a suspect and said no robbery would justify shooting the teen after he put his hands up.
The family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, said Mr. Brown’s parents were blindsided by the allegations.
“It’s bad enough they assassinated him, and now they’re trying to assassinate his character,” Mr. Crump said.
An attorney for the teen who was with Mr. Brown on the day of the shooting said his client has acknowledged to investigators that Mr. Brown took cigars from the store.
Mr. Wilson has been on administrative leave since the Aug. 9 shooting.
At 11:51 a.m. that day, police records show, authorities received a 911 call reporting a robbery at the Ferguson Market. An unidentified officer was dispatched to the store, arriving within three minutes. The officer interviewed an employee and customer, who gave a description of a man who stole the cigars and walked off with another man toward a QuikTrip store.
Descriptions of the suspect were broadcast over the police radio. The officer did not find the suspects either on the street or at the Quik Trip, the reports said.
The robber took a box of Swisher Sweets Cigars valued at $48.99, according to the reports. The suspects were identified as 18-year-old Michael Brown and 22-year-old Dorian Johnson.
Separately, Mr. Wilson had been responding to a nearby call involving a sick 2-month child from 11:48 a.m. until noon, when he left that place. A minute later, he encountered Mr. Brown walking down Canfield Drive. The documents contained no description of what happened between Mr. Brown and Mr. Wilson.
Mr. Crump noted that police did not release a photo of the officer but released images from the store’s security video that they say show Mr. Brown grabbing a man inside the store. Mr. Crump said he had not seen the photos.
Police “are choosing to disseminate information that is very strategic to try to help them justify the execution-style” killing, said Mr. Crump, who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the teenager fatally shot by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was later acquitted of murder.
The Aug. 9 video appears to show a man wearing a ball cap, shorts and white T-shirt grabbing a much shorter man by his shirt near the store’s door. A police report alleges that Mr. Brown grabbed the man who had come from behind the store counter and “forcefully pushed him back” into a display rack.
Mr. Johnson, Mr. Brown’s friend, told investigators that Mr. Brown “did take cigarillos,” his attorney, Freeman Bosley, told MSNBC. Mr. Bosley said he was aware of video but had not seen it.
Mr. Brown’s uncle, Bernard Ewing, questioned whether Mr. Wilson really believed Mr. Brown was a suspect. He referred to Mr. Johnson’s account that the officer’s only command to the two young men was to get out of the street.
“If he’s a robbery suspect, they would have had the lights on,” Mr. Ewing said. “If you rob somebody, you would tell them, ‘Get on the ground’ or something, not, ‘Get off the sidewalk.‘”
A robbery “still doesn’t justify shooting him when he puts his hands up,” he added. “You still don’t shoot him in the face.”
Mr. Brown’s death ignited four days of clashes with furious protesters. The tension eased Thursday after Gov. Jay Nixon turned oversight of the protests over to the Missouri Highway Patrol. Within hours, the mood on the street lightened, with state troopers walking side-by-side with peaceful protesters and no hint of violence. Gone were the police in riot gear and armored vehicles, pointing assault rifles at protesters and firing tear gas into crowds.
But today’s announcement by the police chief was met with disbelief and anger by several dozen Ferguson residents who also attended the news conference, which was hastily held at a gas station burned during a night of looting earlier in the week.
“He stopped the wrong one, bottom line,” yelled Tatinisha Wheeler, a nurse’s aide at the news conference.
A couple of dozen protesters began marching, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Police have said Mr. Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street during a routine patrol. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer’s weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car before the struggle spilled onto the street, where Mr. Brown was shot multiple times, according to police.
Mr. Johnson has told reporters a different story. He said an officer ordered him and Mr. Brown onto the sidewalk, then grabbed his friend’s neck and tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He said Mr. Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times.
Associated Press writers Jim Salter and Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this reportUnited States - North America - Missouri - St. Louis
First Published August 15, 2014 9:55 AM