ST. LOUIS — Darren Wilson was mowing his lawn Aug. 19 — 10 days after he’d shot an unarmed teenager — when he got a call telling him that his address was popping up in online reports. He quickly packed up his belongings and moved in with a relative, somebody who didn’t have the same last name. By nightfall, media members were outside the house.
Wilson then spent about a week with one of his attorneys, Greg Kloeppel, until finally he moved into what his legal team now calls the “quote-unquote permanent location,” which they declined to disclose. Wilson hasn’t been back to his ranch-style home since he stopped cutting the grass midway through.
“You want to buy a house?” another Wilson attorney, James Towey, asked.
Wilson’s four-person legal team spoke with The Washington Post on Wednesday about their strategies during a 3
They also described a period of life on the run in which Wilson bounced from house to house but rarely went out in public. One exception: He did get married to Barbara Spradling, a fellow police officer, obtaining a marriage license in Clayton, Mo.
Another attorney, Neil Bruntrager, said that Wilson used “certain [disguise] tricks” he had learned as a police officer to go out incognito, without specifying what they were. He preferred going to movies because of the darkness.
“He cross-dressed a lot,” Bruntrager said as a joke.
In the first weeks after the shooting, Wilson retained hope that he would be able to reclaim his job as an officer. Although the Ferguson department hasn’t yet officially determined Wilson’s future, the decision makes little difference, Wilson’s attorneys said. He won’t be returning to that police department or any other.
“At first [his thinking] was, ‘I want to go back, I’m a cop, I want to still be a cop,’ ” attorney Danielle Thompson said. “It took some time for him to realize that wasn’t exactly going to be what happened.”
Towey added: “I think I expressed to him, ‘Do you realize your first call [back on the job] will be to a blind alley where you’re executed?’ He took a pause for a minute, thought about it and said, ‘Oh.’ That is the reality.”
As the grand jury proceedings moved along over the past few months, Wilson’s attorneys — a group familiar with representing police cases — said they felt confident that they had the upper hand. That’s largely because witnesses who did speak publicly told conflicting stories about the 90-second encounter between Wilson and Michael Brown. If the grand jury had determined that Wilson should face a criminal trial, they would have had plenty of ammunition when cross-examining witnesses, they said.
They determined quickly after the shooting that Wilson shouldn’t speak publicly — in contrast to George Zimmerman, a volunteer watchman who in 2012 shot black teenager Trayvon Martin — because it could only hurt his case.
“[Zimmerman] is an idiot, Darren was not,” Towey said. “Any criminal defense lawyer that has half a brain says, ‘Shut up, don’t say a word.’ ”
Wilson gave his first and so far only interview Tuesday to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, saying that he didn’t think he could have handled the confrontation with Brown any differently.
“Everybody says that [his story] was so rehearsed and he was so prepped,” Thompson said. “But the way Darren tells the story has not changed from the minute the shooting occurred. He could probably tell it in his sleep if he had to.”
“If I could, I’d show you my notes from one hour after it happened,” Kloeppel said, referring to an interview Wilson did at Ferguson police headquarters Aug. 9. “Same story.”
The shooting of Brown was not necessarily destined to become a flash point for so many broader issues in America. Wilson’s attorneys think that the case turned into a perfect storm because of the initial, public testimony of Dorian Johnson, who was walking with Brown when Wilson stopped them. Johnson said soon after the shooting that the friends weren’t causing any harm and that Wilson — in making the stop — grabbed Brown by the neck while still sitting in the driver’s seat of his Chevrolet Tahoe. Things intensified into a short chase, but Brown eventually raised his hands in surrender, Johnson said. Wilson then “fired several more shots.”
Even now that the grand jury proceedings are over, Wilson’s team still smarts about Johnson.
“Total bull,” Towey said of the hands-up narrative, noting that Brown’s blood trail indicated that he might have been charging toward Wilson as the last shots were fired.
Wilson’s shooting of Brown remains highly contested and has sparked protests across the country. Testimony released this week after the grand jury’s decision included conflicting accounts of the August shooting.
Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mom, who did not witness the shooting but who has talked to witnesses, portrays an event in which Wilson was the aggressor, talking to the teens in vulgar language, grabbing Brown, and finally shooting him in the back.
A lot of people were “compelled to let us know what they saw,” McSpadden said Wednesday in an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS. “Because they knew that this kid did not deserve what happened to him. … He stopped, he turned around to get down on his knees like the officer asked him. I believe he was shot close up. I don’t think my son was lunging at him in any kind of way.”
St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch has faced intense criticism for his handling of the grand jury — particularly his decision not to request any kind of charges. Instead, McCulloch left all judgment to the jurors themselves, deluging them with the kind of evidence you’d normally only see in a jury trial. Questioning of those who appeared in front of the grand jury was fairly friendly.
Bruntrager declined to criticize the process and said there was a reason for running such an informal grand jury: to let witnesses talk freely.
“To get a narrative going,” Bruntrager said. “I think it was actually perfect for what they needed to do, which is get the information out there.”
Wilson’s attorneys said he has no plans to specifically apologize to Brown’s family. After the grand jury decision, Wilson, through his legal team, released a statement that did not mention Brown.
“Even if he gave the most heartfelt apology, they’d still not like it,” Towey said.
“Taking a life is a horrible thing to have to do,” Bruntrager said. “And yet, the key phrase is, ‘to have to do.’ Because that is what he thinks. Is that going to make the Browns feel any less grief?”