Tensions flare anew in Missouri

Police ID officer, say dead teen was suspect in robbery

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FERGUSON, Mo. — One day after roiling tensions over the police shooting of a black teenager here began to subside, emotions flared anew Friday, as police identified the officer involved but also released evidence that the victim was a suspect in a convenience store robbery moments before being shot.

The manner in which police here released the information, which included a 19-page police report on the robbery but no new details about the shooting, led to the spectacle of dueling police news conferences — one led by a white officer who seemed ill at-ease and defensive, and the other dominated by a charismatic black officer who expressed solidarity with the crowd, even as he pleaded for peace.

The white officer, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, changed his account several times during the day, while the black officer,  Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, expressed his displeasure with how the information had been released. “I would have liked to have been consulted,” he said pointedly about the pairing of the shooter’s identity with the robbery accusation.

All week, community members had demanded the name of the officer who killed Michael Brown, 18, last Saturday, but when it finally came, it was accompanied by surveillance videotapes that appeared to show Mr. Brown shoving a store clerk aside as he stole a box of cigarillos.

Mr. Brown’s family, their lawyer and others in the community expressed disgust, accusing police of trying to divert attention from the central issue — the unexplained shooting of an unarmed young man. “It is smoke and mirrors,” said Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for the Brown family, of the robbery allegations. “Nothing, based on the facts before us, justifies the execution-style murder by this police officer in broad daylight.”

The videotapes seemed to contradict the image portrayed by Mr. Brown’s family of a gentle teenager opposed to violence and on his way to college.

Capt. Johnson, who grew up in the area and had been brought in by the governor Thursday to restore peace after days of confrontations between demonstrators and police in riot gear and military-style vehicles, said he had not been told that authorities planned to release the video of the robbery along with the name of the officer. But he sought to calm people down, saying, “In our anger, we have to make sure that we don’t burn down our own house.”

Capt. Johnson won over many, but also faced skepticism over his role, along with anguished questions about who police really represent and the lack of educational and economic opportunities in Ferguson. “I find it utterly disgusting,” one man shouted at him. “What am I supposed to tell my people? It looks like you’re a figurehead.”

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, stood next to Capt. Johnson at their news conference and stressed that the details released Friday were not “the full picture.” He added, “I think the focal point here remains to figure out how and why Michael Brown was killed and to get justice as appropriate in that situation.”

Later Friday, the Justice Department, which is conducting a separate civil rights investigation into the killing, announced that teams of FBI agents would be canvassing the neighborhood where the shooting occurred in the next several days.

The day began when Chief Jackson said at a news conference that the officer who shot Mr. Brown was Darren Wilson, who has served four years in Ferguson and two in another local department and had no disciplinary charges. Officer Wilson, who is white, has been placed on leave, and his location is unknown. But the release of his name was overshadowed by the simultaneous announcement of the robbery allegations, leading to questions about timing and motives.

In a later news conference Friday afternoon at Forestwood Park, a sports complex in Ferguson, Chief Jackson said Officer Wilson had not been aware that Mr. Brown “was a suspect in the case,” and instead had stopped him and a companion “because they were walking down the street blocking traffic.”

But that only highlighted the central issue: How did an officer’s interaction with an unarmed young man escalate into a deadly shooting?

The videotapes, from an unidentified convenience store, show a tall burly man, identified by police as Mr. Brown, shoving aside a clerk as he left the store with an unpaid-for box of Swisher Sweets cigarillos. According to a police report, Mr. Brown was accompanied at the store by his friend Dorian Johnson, who was also with him when he was shot.

Dorian Johnson has admitted being in the convenience store with Mr. Brown and told investigators from the FBI and St. Louis County that Mr. Brown did “take cigarillos,” Mr. Johnson’s lawyer, Freeman Bosley, told MSNBC.

Standing near a store that was vandalized during protests this week, Mark Jackson, who has participated in the demonstrations, expressed skepticism about police motives in describing the robbery. “They just want to make the case seem more reasonable on their side,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the man didn’t have a gun, so they didn’t have to shoot him.”

In his afternoon appearance, the police chief sought to explain why the information was released Friday. “All I did was release the videotape because I had to,” Chief Jackson said. “I had been sitting on it.” He said his hand was forced by numerous news media requests under public records laws. He acknowledged that he had not alerted the other police departments about the tape. “I should have done that,” he said.

Chief Jackson described Officer Wilson as “a gentle quiet man” and “a distinguished officer.” Greg Kloeppel, a lawyer for the union representing Ferguson police, said Orfficer Wilson received an award for “extraordinary effort in the line of duty” in February.

Police have not released the official report on the shooting because it is now the subject of federal and local investigations. In the robbery report released Friday, an officer wrote that “it is worth mentioning that this incident is related to” the fatal shooting of Mr. Brown. After seeing Mr. Brown’s body and reviewing the surveillance video, “I was able to confirm that Brown is the primary suspect” in the robbery, the officer wrote.

Any suggestion that Officer Wilson sought out Mr. Brown and Mr. Johnson because they were robbery suspects, however, was dispelled by the police chief at the afternoon news conference. Adding to the day’s confusion, Chief Jackson told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch later Friday that while Officer Wilson did not originally approach the two youths as suspects, he was aware of the nearby store robbery. The officer has said, according to the chief, that once he saw cigars in Mr. Brown’s hand, he “realized that he might be the robber.”

United States - North America - Missouri - Benjamin Crump - Jay Nixon - Michael Brown


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