Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has told Justice Department lawyers that he is “exasperated” with leaks emerging from the grand jury involved in investigating the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, according to a Justice official.
Holder referred to the leaks as a “selective flow of information,” and characterized them as “inappropriate and troubling.”
The leaked information all appeared to support the case of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo., officer who shot the unarmed Brown.
Various parts of the leaked narrative have appeared in the New York Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Washington Post, drawing criticism from the nation’s top law enforcement official as well as from those still protesting on Ferguson’s streets.
Critics have said the information appeared to be an effort to prepare a volatile community for the possibility that Wilson might not be indicted.
But former St. Louis County police chief Tim Fitch has said in interviews that there can be benefits to leaks. “It’s not a surprise to people” when a decision is announced, he said.
Patricia Bynes, Democratic committeewoman of Ferguson Township, said such a strategy might backfire, howeveer.
“For weeks people have been told: Just let the system play out, there is a legal process in place,” said Bynes, who has been active in the protests. “And then you have this happen. This is just spitting in the face of all of that. This has done nothing but radicalize people who thought that the justice system was not going to work for a black person in America.”
More than 200 people showed up Wednesday night outside Ferguson’s police department, said a spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Department, which is investigating the shooting along with the FBI. Rocks and bottles were thrown at officers and five protesters were arrested, Sgt. Brian Schellman said.
On Thursday afternoon, Charlie A. Dooley, St. Louis County executive, renewed a call for a special prosecutor because “greater oversight is needed.”
“The orchestrated leaks regarding the work of the grand jury . . . are unbelievable and certainly do not inspire confidence in the process or the prosecuting attorney,” said Charlie A. Dooley, St. Louis County executive, who has been a leading voice questioning the fairness of Prosecutor Robert McCulloch.
McCulloch’s office has said that it did not provide any leaks and that the grand jury’s work will not be derailed.
Wilson’s legal team on Thursday said in a statement that it also did not leak any information.
The leaks focus on Wilson’s testimony to jurors. Wilson, according to anonymous sources, told jurors that the trouble started during a testy exchange during which the officer told Brown to get off the street. Wilson said Brown repeatedly punched him in the face, grabbed his gun and did not let go until the officer fired twice. Brown ran off. Wilson ordered him to stop, but instead Brown turned around and charged him. Fearing for his life, Wilson said, he shot him.
His testimony stands in contrast with testimony that has been provided to Brown’s family attorney, Benjamin L. Crump. At least seven witnesses have testified that Brown put his hands up to surrender.
The Rev. Osagyefo Sekou of Boston’s First Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain, who has been organizing protests, downplayed the leaks as “nothing new because everyone knows there was an altercation between the two.”
“It’s almost as if [the police] all went to a school called How to Get Away With Killing [a black person],” Sekou said. “They are continuing a narrative, and everything about the leaks all point to the idea that an unarmed black teen needed to be murdered. ”
Chris King, managing editor of an area black newspaper, the St. Louis American, told the Los Angeles Times that he did not publish information when it was offered to him.
He said in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday that media organizations that published leaks face the “likelihood” of helping to escalate violence in St. Louis streets.
News of a grand jury decision is expected in early November, the prosecutor’s office has said.
Wesley Lowery contributed to this report.