JUST BEFORE LUNCHTIME on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo., a contractor who was losing a battle between his hatchet and some deep-set tree roots began to fuss and cuss. A stranger who was walking by watched the laborer for a bit and then offered some soothing words.
Why are you so riled up, Michael Brown asked. The Lord Jesus Christ can help you with your anger.
“Boy, you can grab a shovel and come down here and you can get picking at these roots,” the worker said.
Brown didn’t assist with the labor, but he hung around for half an hour. When he returned a little later, Brown, now with his friend Dorian Johnson, was rolling marijuana into lined notebook paper.
“You’re going to smoke it out of that?” the contractor asked.
“No, we’re going to go to the store and get some skins or a blunt or something,” Brown replied, and off he went to the Ferguson Market. To the contractor, Brown didn’t seem high, just “a little bit slow . . . just wanting to talk to somebody.”
“DIFFICULTY BREATHING, a two-month-old baby,” the dispatcher said. On what would prove to be his last day as an active-duty police officer in Ferguson, Darren Wilson, working the 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. shift, took the call.
Moments later, the dispatcher alerted patrol units to “a stealing in progress from 9101 West Florissant . . . a black male in a white t-shirt. He’s running toward Quik Trip. He took a whole box of Swisher cigars.”
Wilson heard the call but drove ahead to look in on the sick baby.
MICHAEL BROWN and Darren Wilson were on their way to a collision that would claim one life and scar another, an encounter that lasted about three minutes but would become an enduring marker of the nation’s stubborn divide over race.
Brown was 18, big, funny, a marijuana smoker, religious and, on that summer’s day, a kid who robbed a convenience store of a $15 packet of cigarillos. Wilson was 28, big, soft-spoken, divorced, the son of a woman who was convicted of stealing — an officer with a clean record, an officer who had never before fired his weapon on duty.
Brown was black. Wilson is white.
What happened just after noon that day is clear: Wilson shot Brown at least six times, killing him. And what happened in the three confrontations between Brown and Wilson in those three minutes — an exchange of words about Brown and his friend jaywalking, a scuffle inside Wilson’s patrol vehicle and the final encounter in the middle of Canfield Drive — will never be entirely clear.
No video of the incident has emerged, leaving the nation, like the grand jury that completed its work two weeks ago, dependent on a vast encyclopedia of evidence, a mountain of witness statements, forensic reports and police narratives. It all adds up to a close consensus on the basic chronology of events and wildly varying interpretations of a few key moments. Scientific analysis can determine how many times Brown was shot, where he was standing, even what direction he was moving in. But the only windows into Brown’s intentions come from witnesses, and what they saw blended all too confusingly with who they are.
What witnesses saw was sufficient to persuade the grand jurors not to indict Wilson. It was also enough to spark nights of violence and secure for Michael Brown’s death a place on a short, tragic list of maddening American mysteries, all linked by a central truth: People can witness the same events yet draw opposing narratives from them. Even in this time when so much of life is recorded in bytes and bits, memory is a sly game player. Some things are unknowable.
THIS IS WHAT is on 11 seconds of security camera video: Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson leave the Ferguson Market & Liquor store on West Florissant Avenue. Brown is holding a $15 packet of Swisher Sweets cigarillos. A clerk tries to block Brown at the exit. Brown’s demeanor is at once menacing and matter of fact. Brown, 6-4 and 289 pounds, shoves the much smaller clerk out of the doorway, then pivots back into the store and moves toward the clerk, who cowers and backs away. Brown departs.
Johnson, 22, had met Brown — he called him “Big Mike” — a few months earlier, after Brown moved in with his grandmother in an apartment behind Johnson’s building on Canfield Drive.
That morning, Johnson planned to buy cigarillos and smoke marijuana — his daily routine. He saw Brown talking to the contractor, walked over and chatted with Brown about high school and the challenges Brown would face if he went to college.
Johnson mentioned heading to the store to get cigarillos, and Brown “was like, I need one too. Let’s walk to the store,” Johnson said.
A police report says that after entering the store at 11:53 a.m., “Brown grabbed a box of Swisher Sweets” containing 60 cigarillos and selling for $33.99. After a store employee told Brown that he had to pay for the smokes, Brown reached across the counter, grabbed a second item — a smaller pack of 15 cigarillos — and turned to leave. Video shows Brown and the clerk arguing.
Johnson figured it had to be “a prank.” After all, he had cash on him, and he thought Brown did, too. “I still didn’t think that he was not going to pay for them,” Johnson said later.
Johnson watched the confrontation between his friend and the clerk in disbelief. “I didn’t want any part of it,” he said. “I knew there was cameras in the store.”
Brown “didn’t strike me as a person who would do anything like that,” Johnson said. “He never talked about any crimes or anything like that.”
Almost immediately, a customer who’d been in the store during the incident dialed 911 and reported a strong-arm robbery. A minute later, the Ferguson police dispatcher issued a radio alert for the two men seen leaving the store with the smaller pack of cigarillos. (The larger box was left in the shop.)
As they walked from the market, Johnson said, his friend “was basically laughing it off, be cool, be calm, stuff like that, laughing it off, but in my head, I’m like, I can’t be calm, I can’t be cool because I know what just happened and we were on camera.”
On West Florissant, they saw a police cruiser go by and Johnson thought it was the cops coming for them. “ Wow, we’re really going to get locked up,” he thought. “This is going to happen.”
It didn’t. The cruiser passed by. A couple of minutes later, they turned onto Canfield Drive, walking in the middle of the street. Another police vehicle was coming toward them.
AT 12:01 P.M., Wilson, done with the sick-baby call, was driving along Canfield in his Chevy Tahoe police cruiser when he saw two men walking in the street, near the yellow double line, forcing motorists to steer around them.
As he pulled up to Brown and Johnson, Wilson later said, he noticed “that Brown had bright yellow socks on that had green marijuana leaves as a pattern on them.”
Wilson said he came to a stop and told the men, “Why don’t you guys walk on the sidewalk?” Johnson recalls saltier language from him: “Get the f--- on the sidewalk.”
Brown and Johnson were not inclined to take orders from the officer.
“We are almost to our destination,” Johnson said.
“Well, what’s wrong with the sidewalk?” the officer replied.
“F--- what you have to say,” Brown said, according to Wilson. (Johnson said Brown was silent.) That comment, the officer said, “drew my attention totally to Brown. It was a very unusual and not expected response from a simple request.”
Wilson then noticed the cigarillos in Brown’s right hand. “And that’s when it clicked for me,” he told the grand jury. He saw that Johnson was wearing the black shirt that he’d heard about in the radio description of the men.
“These are the two from the stealing,” Wilson said he concluded. (Wilson’s sergeant told investigators that Wilson said after the shooting that “he did not know anything about the stealing call” when he confronted the men. The police radio dispatch supervisor testified that Wilson called in after finishing with the sick baby to ask whether assistance was needed on the stealing case.)
As Brown and Johnson resumed walking up the street past the officer’s vehicle, Wilson got on his radio and identified himself with his call signal.
“Frank 21, I’m on Canfield with two, send me another car,” he said.
Then Wilson shifted into reverse and backed up — fast — to just beyond the men, angling his Tahoe to cut them off.
Brown and Johnson had to “jump back” to avoid getting hit, said a woman who was driving a Monte Carlo stopped behind Wilson’s Tahoe.
Wilson called to Brown, “Come here for a minute.” As Wilson moved to get out of his SUV, Brown “looks at me and says, ‘What the f--- are you going to do about it?’ and shuts my door, slammed it shut.”
Johnson saw it differently: He said the officer opened the door onto Brown, hitting him.
Either way, the exchange of words had given way to physical confrontation.
THE LAW GIVES police wide berth in dealing with people they encounter. But police can’t be aggressors unless they are making an arrest or believe a crime has taken place. Wilson “would not be privileged to assault Brown on a jaywalking charge,” said Sean O’Brien, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, but an officer may “use reasonable force necessary to accomplish an arrest.”
If Wilson did aggressively open the door onto Brown, that would have been “bad police work,” O’Brien said. “It could do nothing but inflame the situation.”
But if Brown slammed the door on the officer, then a jury “could determine that Brown was the aggressor,” said Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd, past president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
And if Wilson indeed recognized the men as suspects from the radio call about stolen cigarillos, then the law grants the officer the right to arrest them using a reasonable amount of force.
WILSON, POLICE INVESTIGATORS and several witnesses said that as the officer tried to get out of his vehicle, Brown leaned against the door and into the Tahoe.
Wilson said he ordered Brown to move back. Wilson’s sergeant said the officer told him immediately after the incident that “I was trying to get out of the vehicle and [Brown] wouldn’t let me out, he kept pushing the door closed.”
But Johnson said his friend didn’t lean into the Tahoe; rather, the officer grabbed Brown by the collar and on the arm as the two were “yelling and cussing.”
Numerous witnesses back up Wilson’s version: Witness No. 44 — prosecutors released transcripts and witness statements with most of the names edited out — saw Brown reach into the car, “his whole top half in the window, then coming back out like they were fighting, kind of.”
One witness saw “tussling going on through the window.” Another saw Brown’s hands “enter and he was tryin’ to like pull away from him, but I don’t have no idea what he was doin’.” Others said they saw “wrestling.”
Investigators found Brown’s DNA on the driver’s inside door handle.
Wilson said Brown punched him in the face at least twice. The officer tried to defend himself, grabbing Brown’s right arm: “I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.”
Witness No. 34 was watching the confrontation from his car. “I could see him hitting at the policeman,” the witness said.
Later that afternoon, Wilson’s superiors would take him to the emergency room after they noted that he had a red and swollen ear, scratches and bruises on his neck, and swelling on his face. A physician at Northwest HealthCare found no “serious injuries” but noted a scratch on his neck and a bruise to his right jaw from a force strong enough to redden it but not to cause dislocation or fracture. The doctor sent Wilson home with instructions to ice his face and take Naprosyn for pain.
A DNA analysis did not find Wilson’s DNA under Brown’s fingernails or on his right hand. They found Wilson’s DNA only on Brown’s left palm. An autopsy found “no injuries to the back of the hands or fingers.”
Physical evidence released by the county prosecutor provides no conclusive proof that Brown did or did not hit Wilson, said Michael A. Knox, a Florida-based forensics expert whose firm, Knox & Associates Forensic Consulting, is often hired by police departments to do crime reconstructions.
Wilson’s injuries “could be from being punched,” Knox said. “It could be his head hit something in his vehicle, and he was struggling to get away. . . . You can’t relate those injuries to any particular event.”
Johnson insists that no punches were thrown. “It was more a tug of war and it was very intense, very intense,” he said. Because “Big Mike was standing up and he had better, more strength,” Brown had the advantage in the tussle, Johnson said.
There’s consensus on this: At one point during the struggle, Brown turned to Johnson, said, “Hey, man, hold these,” handed him the cigarillos and returned to the confrontation with Wilson.
Wilson said Brown then punched him in the face; the officer momentarily considered pulling his mace spray from his belt, but he said he couldn’t reach it. Even if he could, he decided that Brown’s hands could block the chemical from reaching his face. (Wilson did not carry a Taser, though some other officers in Ferguson did.) Wilson said he pushed Brown away with his left hand and pulled his pistol from his holster with his right.
“Stop or I will shoot,” Wilson said he yelled. Johnson heard something like that, too.
But as Wilson raised the gun, the officer said, Brown grabbed it by its top and said, “You’re too much of a pussy to shoot me.” Johnson said he heard “cuss words from both of them” but never saw Brown touch the gun.
Even if Brown was only trying to keep from being shot, the law lands squarely on the officer’s side at this point. An aggressive officer in that situation may be abusing his authority, but if Wilson perceives Brown as a threat, the officer is not breaking the law, several law professors agreed.
“Wilson’s status as a law enforcement officer puts Brown in a no-win scenario,” said O’Brien, the Missouri law professor. “He cannot use force to defend himself because Wilson has a lawful right to arrest.”
In the officer’s version, Brown then pressed the barrel of the gun down into Wilson’s left hip, but the officer twisted his body to free the gun, then pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
“It just clicked, I pull it again, it just clicked again,” he said. “I pulled it a third time” and it fired. Wilson saw Brown step back, his expression now turned intense, “aggressive.”
“He comes back towards me again with his hands up,” Wilson said. “I tried to pull the trigger again, click.” Wilson thought Brown’s hand was blocking the gun from functioning normally. “Without even looking,” he said, “I just grab the top of my gun, the slide, and I racked it and . . . I pulled the trigger again. It goes off.”
The tussle lasted maybe 10 seconds, said a woman watching from her third-floor apartment. A woman walking home from the library thought it was just a couple of seconds. The woman in the Monte Carlo said it was a few seconds.
Then everyone heard the same thing.
The driver’s window shattered.
“That was when the officer let go and we were both able to run,” Johnson said. He said that he saw blood and that Brown was struck “in the chest, or I seen blood coming from [there.]” Crime lab reports concluded that two bullets were fired in the Tahoe; one lodged in its door and the other was never found. Brown was hit in the hand. The St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office described the wound as a “tangential (graze) gunshot wound.” A private autopsy conducted for the Brown family said the bullet entered his palm at the base of his right thumb and exited two inches later, at his wrist. Black soot was found on Brown’s skin and residue from the gun barrel was identified on his skin and muscle, indicating that the gun was within inches of his hand when it was fired.
Experts who examined the forensic records for The Washington Post said Brown’s thumb was close to the muzzle of the gun but not pressed against it. If that had been the case, his thumb could have been blown off, said Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist based in San Francisco.
DNA from Brown and Wilson was found on the gun. Brown’s DNA was also found on the upper left thigh of Wilson’s navy pants.
Wilson saw blood on his own hands but didn’t know if it was his or Brown’s.
After the shot, Brown punched the officer again, several times, then wheeled and fled east with Johnson, Wilson said.
Witness No. 10 said Brown emerged from the Tahoe’s window and took off running so suddenly that his left sandal and his red St. Louis Cardinals cap flew off.
Wilson burst out of his Tahoe, and radioed for assistance, he testified. His gun was still drawn, according to several witnesses. “Shots fired, send me more cars,” he said, but he was on the wrong channel and other officers didn’t hear it. When he did get on the right frequency, officers who knew him well could tell from his voice that something was wrong.
THE SOUND OF GUNFIRE rang through the Canfield Green apartments, 414 units in 18 buildings on both sides of the street. Residents came to their windows, onto their terraces, out onto the sidewalks.
The two men ran. Johnson tucked himself behind a car along the curb. Brown passed two cars, moving at least 179 feet from Wilson’s SUV, according to blood spatter evidence.
Then, at Canfield and Copper Creek, Brown stopped and turned around.
Many witnesses saw that. But what happened next has generated no consensus; rather, witnesses’ accounts form a nest of tangled interpretations.
The police report boils the moment down to two sentences: “During the foot chase, the subject turned around and began running toward Officer Wilson. Wilson fired his weapon to stop the subject from assaulting him further.”
Brown’s sudden stop was fleeting, but it became the subject of many hours of investigation and testimony. The 12-member grand jury met for 25 days from August through late November, and prosecutors focused more on the meaning of Brown’s movement toward Wilson than on any other moment on that August afternoon.
Was Brown trying to surrender? Was he charging the officer? Was he falling from his wounds? Did his movement have any meaning at all?
Within minutes after the shooting, word had spread through the surrounding apartments that Brown’s hands were up in the air when he was taken down. But several witnesses said the talk about a surrender pose was spread by people who had heard the gunshots but not witnessed the event themselves.
Those who saw the face-off between Wilson and Brown generally describe very similar events but use different words to characterize movements.
Brown “staggered a little to the left and his arms went out” before he crumpled to the ground. Or Brown’s palms were out, in a gesture that looked like “surrender, that meant take me to jail.” Or “I saw his body . . . and that’s when he turned around and put his hands up.” Or “his hands weren’t fully up, he kind of turned around and . . . fell on his face.” Or “he has his arms bent towards his chest and he’s running, like, you know, almost like a tackle running.”
When one witness told the grand jury that she was certain Brown had charged Wilson, prosecutor Sheila Whirley pushed back: “You characterize it as ‘charge;’ could he have been staggering?” The witness stuck with her account.
On another day, when a witness said he was certain that Brown had tried to surrender to Wilson, the prosecutor again pushed back, from the opposite direction: “It does not appear he was charging the officer?” No, the witness said, “he was not charging.”
St. Louis County’s elected prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch (D), brought his own freighted history to the case. In heavily African American areas such as Ferguson, he was viewed as someone who was unlikely to push hard for an indictment of a police officer because his father, a St. Louis police officer, was shot and killed by a black gunman in 1964, when McCulloch was 12. Four of his other relatives, including his brother and mother, had worked for the St. Louis force, and the prosecutor himself had planned to join the department until he lost a leg to cancer in high school.
In his 24 years in office, McCulloch had brought at least four police shootings to grand juries. None of the officers had been indicted. But when McCulloch appeared before the Ferguson grand jurors on their first day of work in August, he told them that they would probably not see him again, and they did not.
One witness who testified to the grand jury, 19-year-old Piaget Crenshaw, said in an interview with The Post that although the jurors let her give her full account, she thought prosecutors were not paying attention. Crenshaw said she saw Brown “put his arms up to let them know that he was compliant.”
On Nov. 21, the jury’s last day of hearing testimony, prosecutors told the jurors that they ought not impute any point of view to the government. “We want you to understand, as attorneys, it is our job to challenge witnesses’ statements and that sometimes, you know, you don’t get to the truth unless you challenge a witness statement,” said prosecutor Kathi Alizadeh. “Don’t read into anything about what you think our opinions are because really our opinions don’t matter. It is up to you and what you guys think.”
WILSON SAID that with his Sig Sauer P229 semiautomatic pistol still in hand, he called out to the fleeing Brown to “get on the ground, get on the ground.”
Brown — now about 30 feet from the officer, according to Wilson — pivoted back toward Wilson.
“His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does a stutter step to start running,” Wilson said. “When he does that, his left hand goes in a fist and goes to his side, his right one goes under his shirt in his waistband and he starts running at me.”
Wilson’s sergeant said the officer told him immediately after the incident that when Brown “started to charge at Officer Wilson . . . he had had an angry look in his face or in his eyes.”
(Brown was later found to be carrying 1.5 grams of marijuana in a plastic bag. The chief toxicologist for St. Louis County, Christopher Long, told the grand jury that the marijuana found in Brown’s body was “a significant concentration that represents a large dose. How he would have behaved and what he would have done I cannot predict. I know the drug was having an effect and was impairing his nervous system.”
But Carl Hart, a Columbia University professor who is an expert on the effects of marijuana, said the test results show Brown “could not have been intoxicated with marijuana at the time of the shooting” and had not taken a dose large enough to be likely to have caused erratic behavior.)
Johnson said Brown was still running away when Wilson started shooting at him. Johnson said he then saw his friend jerk, stop and turn to face the officer, but Brown made no progress toward Wilson.
Which direction Brown was moving in could be important legally. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a police officer may not shoot an unarmed fleeing suspect unless the person presents a serious threat to the officer or the public.
But the tussle over the gun probably renders that issue moot, said Rodney J. Uphoff, a law professor at the University of Missouri and a former criminal defense lawyer: “If he tussled over the gun, then [Wilson] has a reasonable belief that [Brown] will take the gun, and [Wilson] has the right to use deadly force.”
Even civilians have the right to use deadly force at this point, said Zahnd, the Missouri prosecutor: “If we believe Brown punches Wilson and attempts to grab his weapon, under Missouri law, I believe he has the right of any citizen to use deadly force.”
Brown’s only legal option at that point is to surrender.
Did he try to do that?
Johnson said that Brown raised his hands as he turned, one hand higher than the other, and said, “I don’t have a gun.” But at another point, Johnson said that he did not hear Wilson tell Brown to get on the ground and that he did not hear Brown say anything more to the officer. “There was no more words said by anybody, it was just shots fired,” Johnson said.
Witness No. 46, a woman who was listening to gospel music in her car, said she heard Brown say “I don’t have anything,” loudly, “in a holler voice.” That same witness said Brown kept calling out to the officer even as the bullets flew: “The boy kept saying, ‘I got, my hands is up, I don’t have anything, what do you want.’ ”
The two men who were working on the apartment complex lawn heard Brown call out to the officer, but what they heard differed from what the woman in her car described. Both lawn workers said they heard Brown say, “Okay,” at least once.
Another man, who had stepped outside his apartment after the first gunshots, said he heard Brown say, “Don’t shoot me, stop shooting.”
With so many versions flying about, the grand jury pressed some witnesses to be more precise. “I need to know what you heard, not what you think you heard,” one juror told the man who’d come out of his apartment.
The man replied: “He was getting pierced by some bullets. He was pleading for his life.”
ONCE BROWN TURNS back toward Wilson, the law’s view of the officer’s right to use force potentially pivots as well.
“Deadly force is permitted unless the suspect unambiguously withdraws and clearly communicates that to the officer,” Zahnd said.
In a case like this, where evidence of Brown’s intent is murky and contradictory, jurors must decide what Wilson believes Brown’s actions meant and whether a reasonable person would have continued to see Brown as a threat.
“That’s what makes these cases so difficult,” said Uphoff, the professor and former defense lawyer.
In the end, legal experts agreed, what happened between Wilson and Brown can’t be understood simply by parsing the law, which is written to give police leeway to make reasonable mistakes when performing a dangerous job.
“Whether Michael Brown’s death was necessary or avoidable is not settled by whether Wilson had a legal right to pull the trigger when he did,” O’Brien said.
Uphoff said police should be trained to use the least deadly force possible, but “their failure to do that does not mean that they need to be criminally prosecuted.”
THE TWO MEN now faced each other.
Brown’s hands “were down at his sides” (Witness No. 30), or they were “into the air” (Witness No. 16). Witness No. 10 said Brown “turned around and he did some type of movement. I never seen him put his hands up or anything. . . . I’m not sure if he pulled his pants up or, or whatever he did, but I seen some type of movement and he started charging towards the police officer.”
“It wasn’t really a run,” said Witness No. 44, “cuz he didn’t get far. Well, after he stopped, he turned around, and he put his hands about shoulder length. It wasn’t in the air like everybody doin’.” This witness said Brown was “scrunching forward” but not moving toward the officer. (Later, the witness said it was possible that Brown did come forward toward Wilson but that the witness had turned away and missed that.)
Whatever Brown’s hands were doing, witnesses agreed on the next moment: “The cop shot him.” Wilson “opened fire on Mr. Brown.” “The officer shot him.”
Wilson shot and shot and shot again, Johnson said: “I stood and watched face-to-face as every shot was fired and as his body went down. His body kind of just went down and fell.”
After the first volley, Wilson concluded that he’d hit Brown. But, the officer said, Brown kept coming toward him, so he fired more shots. (Shortly after the shootings, Wilson told his sergeant that he’d fired four times in the final confrontation; weeks later, Wilson gave grand jurors a different, more detailed, account, saying he’d fired a series of shots and that Brown had reached toward his waistband.)
Although some witnesses said Wilson continued to fire as Brown ran away, there is no physical evidence that any bullets struck Brown as he moved away from Wilson.
“It looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him,” said Wilson, who estimated that Brown came within eight to 10 feet of him.
“I’m backpedaling pretty good because I know if he reaches me, he’ll kill me,” Wilson said. “And he had started to lean forward as he got that close, like he was going to just tackle me, just go right through me.”
Johnson saw shots being fired as Brown was falling to the pavement. “The last shot he fired, he was so close to the ground, it looked like to me he was already on the ground,” Johnson said. “He was going down, he was already down before the last shot came. . . . I can see how many shots this officer is firing, it is sickening to my stomach, I’m almost bursting in tears right there.”
Wilson’s sergeant told the grand jurors that Ferguson officers are trained to “focus on your target — I’m sorry, not target, but you focus on who’s angry at you, who’s coming at you or who’s trying to harm you. You shoot to neutralize the threat.”
A FAMILY in a minivan — mother and father up front, two adult daughters and a granddaughter in the back — had just pulled into the Canfield Green apartment complex, on the way to visit a friend.
Everyone in the van had the same vantage point through the front windshield, yet the accounts they gave the grand jury suggested different realities, starting with what Brown was wearing: “blue jeans, white T-shirt, tennis shoes,” the father said. No, the mother said: shorts, “socks with flip-flops and a big shirt.”
The father saw Brown face the officer and point something toward him. “I thought I saw a glint,” he testified. “I believe it was a gun.”
One daughter at first told investigators that she thought Brown had been shot in the leg or hip before he ran from Wilson. But she told the grand jury that it was just Brown’s body movements that suggested he’d been shot.
The four family members who testified each had different impressions of Brown’s final movements.
The mother said she wasn’t sure whether Brown “was trying to charge the officer or run past him,” but she wondered whether he was “crazy” because he kept moving toward Wilson.
The daughter sitting behind the mother said Brown “took a couple steps and he might have been stumbling or I’m not sure exactly what he was doing.”
The other daughter, sitting in the same middle row of the van, was adamant that Brown charged. “He was charging this officer and that’s how I feel it was, like he was running towards him,” she said. “If he had got close enough, I feel like he would have tackled him up against the car.”
The father described Brown taking three to four steps toward the officer. But “it wasn’t fast enough to be a charge,” he said.
The prosecutor asked one daughter whether the family had discussed what they saw from the minivan.
“Yes, we did,” answered the daughter who sat behind her mother in the van.
“And in doing that, did you realize that you all kind of saw different things?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes, we did,” the daughter answered.
SHOT, BROWN DROPPED his arms alongside his torso, some said. Or he was curling up, still walking toward the officer, or falling to his knees, or flopping over.
Three bullets hit while Brown was either falling or bent at the waist. One of those bullets crushed the top of his head, causing him to collapse face first onto the pavement.
The county autopsy report concluded that Brown was shot in his right hand in the tussle at the Tahoe and was hit five to seven more times in the final encounter with Wilson, causing seven more wounds — three in his right arm, two in the chest and two in the head. One or two of the bullets probably caused multiple wounds, the report said. All but one of the shots came from Brown’s front, forensic reports concluded; one entered at the back of his right forearm, which would have been facing Wilson if Brown had his palms facing out, as many witnesses recounted.
Blood spatter at the scene shows that Brown was progressing toward Wilson as he was shot. Brown’s “blood strikes the ground and then radiates out in the direction he was traveling,” said Michael F. LaForte, a Florida-based forensics expert who examined the investigative reports at The Post’s request.
The location of the shell casings from Wilson’s weapon that were found at the scene indicates that Wilson was backing up as Brown came about 20 feet toward him, LaForte said.
Wilson took the jurors through those final seconds: “I remember looking at my sights and firing. All I see is his head and that’s what I shot. I don’t know how many, I know at least once, because I saw the last one go into him. And then when it went into him, the demeanor on his face went blank, the aggression was gone. It was gone, I mean, I knew he stopped, the threat was stopped.”
Wilson had emptied his magazine.
A witness watched the officer in the sudden quiet: “He was just looking down at him, just like walking around him, you know, just like walking a circle around him like. I don’t know, it was just strange.”
Wilson testified that he got on the radio: “Send me every car you got and a supervisor.”
WILSON’S SERGEANT, a 38-year veteran of the Ferguson department, arrived on the scene moments after the shooting, went up to Wilson’s car, where the officer was staring at his dashboard and “appeared in a state of shock,” and asked his officer what happened.
“I had to shoot him,” Wilson replied.
The sergeant told Wilson to take the sergeant’s car, return to the station and wait for a supervisor. Department protocol calls for an officer involved in a shooting to remain at the scene until investigators have walked him through the events, but the sergeant said he ordered Wilson to leave because “the crowd was growing rather rapidly” and “they were very agitated.”
Immediately after the shooting, people came out of their apartments and gathered around the growing number of officers on the street. Word spread that Brown’s hands were up when he was shot. Witnesses said several people were “runnin’ around” saying things like “They killed my friend for no reason” and “That’s my cousin.” People on the street whipped out their phones to record the aftermath and began to challenge the police. “Don’t shoot me,” they said. And: “Are you gonna shoot me too?”
On the police radio, an officer said: “Get us several more units over here. There’s gonna be a problem.” And then, moments later, another officer: “We’re gonna need crowd control here.”
Michael Brown’s body, covered by sheets, remained in the street for four hours. Ferguson police said the body was left there because authority over the crime scene had been transferred to the St. Louis County police.
Detectives checked Brown’s pockets. He had two $5 bills, a notepad, the bag of marijuana and two lighters.
Alice Crites, Scott Higham, Steven Rich, John Sullivan and Julie Tate in Washington and David Montgomery in Ferguson contributed to this report.