Ferguson police say Michael Brown was a robbery suspect, identify Darren Wilson as officer who shot him

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson and Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald Johnson held news conferences Friday to discuss the release of robbery surveillance video, reveal the identity of the officer who shot Michael Brown and more. (Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post)

Police on Friday said that Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown last weekend, confronted Brown after the teenager was identified as the main suspect in a convenience store robbery that occurred Saturday morning.

However, hours later, authorities said that the robbery was not the reason for the encounter that ended with Brown shot to death on a suburban St. Louis street, suggesting that it was unrelated to the confrontation.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, who took no questions at a news conference Friday morning, described Wilson as a six-year veteran with no disciplinary record. Wilson was publicly identified for the first time Friday following many complaints from residents that the police had not named him.

After identifying the officer, Jackson detailed a robbery and released a police report identifying Brown as a suspect. At a separate news conference later in the day, Jackson said the robbery was unrelated; when asked why the police released the robbery information to begin with, Jackson said that it was in response to media requests.

At the afternoon news conference, Jackson provided a reason for the encounter. He said that the confrontation occurred because Brown and a friend were walking in the street and “blocking traffic.” This account matches what Dorian Johnson, the friend who was with Brown at the time, has said in multiple interviews.

Still, many residents as well as family members of Brown were angered that police had announced Wilson’s name and immediately followed it with information regarding the robbery without specifying whether the robbery was even related.

Michael Brown’s family was sharply critical of the decision to release the robbery photos and footage, saying in a statement that they were “beyond outraged” at the decision.

“The family feels that was strategic,” Anthony Gray, a lawyer for Brown’s family, said during a news conference Friday. “They feel it was aimed at denigrating their son. It was an attempt at character assassination.”

And as of Friday afternoon, key details still remained unknown, including precisely what happened when Wilson encountered Brown and why Brown was shot and killed.

Police handed out a 19-page document packet Friday morning, saying it was in response to Freedom of Information Act requests they’ve received from media members this week.

Ferguson police released surveillance video that allegedly shows Michael Brown robbing a convenience store before he was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson on Saturday. (Ferguson Police Dept.)

The documents related to an alleged robbery at a convenience store that took place prior to the shooting.

According to the report, Ferguson police officers received a call at 11:51 a.m. about a robbery in progress at a convenience store and were given the description of a suspect.

The suspect was described as a black male in a white T-shirt walking north toward a QuikTrip convenience store.

“I did not see the suspect in the area,” the officer wrote in the report.

The officer wrote that the store clerk got the description of the suspect as wearing a white T-shirt, khaki shorts, yellow socks and a red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. The officer was also told that another black male was with him.

A partially redacted witness report in the packet given to media – which did not state who provided the information – said that a woman inside the store came out of the bathroom during the altercation.

She told police she saw Brown tell the store employee that he and his companion wanted several boxes of cigars from behind the counter.

“As [redacted employee name] was placing the boxes on the counter, Brown grabbed a box of Swisher Sweet cigars and handed them to [Dorian] Johnson who was standing behind Brown,” the report stated. Johnson has said in interviews that he was with Brown when he was killed.

The witness said that the store employee then told Brown he had to pay first, and then Brown reached over the counter to grab more packs of cigars and turned to leave the store.

According to the witness account, the employee called 911 and attempted to block Brown from leaving by standing in front of the door.

“That is when Brown grabbed [redacted employee name] by the shirt and forcefully pushed him back into a display rack,” the report said.

The police report goes on to state that surveillance video from the store shows Brown and Johnson entering the store before Brown hands  the pack of Swisher Sweets to Johnson.

“An apparent struggle or confrontation seems to take place with Brown, however it is obscured by a display case on the counter,” the report stated. “Meanwhile, Johnson sets the box he was handed back on the counter.”

Wilson, who had been responding to a different call shortly before noon Saturday, left that area after the 911 call regarding the “strong-arm robbery” at the store.

A description of a possible suspect and the suspect’s location was also given over the radio.

Wilson left the call he had been responding to and encountered Brown on Canfield Drive at 12:01 p.m., Jackson said.

Within minutes, Wilson shot and killed Brown, though the exact circumstances of how this occurred remain unknown.

Police also released these stills depicting what police say is a confrontation between Brown and a convenience store worker during the reported robbery:

Michael Brown’s family’s strongly-worded statement Friday denouncing the police decision to release the information related to the robbery called it an outrageous attempt to divert attention from the killing.

“There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender,” the statement said.

“It is no way transparent  to release the still photographs alleged to be Michael Brown and refuse to release the photographs of the officer that executed him.

“The police strategy of attempting to blame the victim will not divert our attention from being  focused on the autopsy, ballistics report and the trajectory of the bullets that caused Michael’s death and will demonstrate to the world this brutal execution of an unarmed teenager.”

About two dozen protesters had gathered on the outskirts of the area Friday morning where Jackson made his first announcement, near the QuickTrip that was burned when protests turned violent Sunday night.

“I wanted to be out here this morning to support the cause,” Mark Jackson, 43, of Ferguson, said before the news was released. He held a sign declaring: Justice 4 Mike Brown. “And I want to see what information they’ll finally give us.”

The announcement from police identifying the officer and naming Brown as a robbery suspect came after the calmest night in Ferguson since Brown was shot and killed Saturday afternoon. His death sparked outrage and protests, with hundreds marching in the days that followed.

On Thursday, federal and state officials for the first time offered a sweeping response, criticizing the police reaction and calling for changes. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) announced that the Missouri State Highway Patrol would take over security in Ferguson from the local police, which was followed by a remarkably different night in Ferguson that saw hugs and calm replace tear gas and fear.

Still, key questions, including Wilson’s identity, had remained unanswered for days. In the wake of Brown’s killing, police had only released minimal information regarding the officer. They said only that he was a six-year veteran of the force, but did not elaborate on his police record. Wilson was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting, police said.

Police and witnesses have offered very different accounts of what happened Saturday in suburban St. Louis. The account offered by police described a physical confrontation between Brown and Wilson that involved a struggle over the officer’s gun. But the version described by Johnson has Wilson confronting Brown before shooting him as he tried to surrender. The witness said Brown did not reach for Wilson’s weapon.

After offering updates in news conferences in the days after the shooting, police largely stopped providing new details. Authorities repeatedly declined to say how many times Brown was shot or where on his body he was struck. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar did say Brown was hit “multiple times” and died about 35 feet from the police car where the confrontation occurred. This lack of information was fueling much of the frustration in Ferguson, residents said.

On Wednesday, four days after the shooting, Jackson, the Ferguson police chief released one new bit of information regarding the encounter. Jackson said at a news conference that the officer was struck in the face and required medical treatment.

The Ferguson police had initially said they would release his name earlier in the week, but officials reversed course Tuesday and said they had decided not to identify him due to threats made against officers.

 

This post has been updated.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
Wesley Lowery is a national reporter covering law enforcement and justice for the Washington Post. He previously covered Congress and national politics.

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Mark Berman · August 15, 2014