For all the speculation and rumor, all the protest and media interest, it wasn’t until Tuesday that the public came to know the voice of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. It was raspy, flat and without inflection, reflecting the cadence of his Midwestern home. Even when ABC interviewer George Stephanopoulos asked him of his “dream going forward,” his response was curt.
“We just want to have a normal life,” he said from an undisclosed location. “That’s it.”
But normality for Wilson, who learned Monday night he wouldn’t be charged in the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown, may be elusive. Even without an indictment, he remains a man in danger from lingering anger. His attorneys have reported numerous death threats and, as of this week, his face has been etched into the public mind. He is unlikely to ever reclaim the life he once led.
“Darren Wilson is going to have a tough time because even if the presumption was he did nothing wrong, that doesn’t matter,” CNN legal analyst Mark O’Mara said. “He is now the focus point for all the anger and animosity that exists in the black community.”
That anger – as well as the perception of it – has tied Wilson in a knot that will be difficult to escape. Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has already announced that Wilson, who is negotiating his resignation, will no longer have a position on the police force. He told The Washington Post’s Chico Harlan it was a “personnel matter.”
Others suspect a clear motive: Wilson’s safety. “He’s not going back to work in Ferguson – he’d get killed in a heartbeat,” an anonymous source familiar with Wilson’s professional situation told the Guardian. “I’m not sure he will ever be in police work again, and I’m not even sure that he should hang around in St Louis. He may just basically have to move on with his life somewhere else.”
But where? Wherever he goes, he won’t be able to shake several realities, at least for the time being. One is a federal investigation, pursued by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., over whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights on that hot August day. Another is an internal Ferguson Police Department inquiry probing whether he was justified in shooting to death the unarmed Brown. And finally, there is the threat of a hefty civil lawsuit that many expect the Brown family to file against him.
“What happens or doesn’t happen with the grand jury is irrelevant with the civil suit,” Steve Ryals, a Missouri civil rights lawyer who handles police misconduct cases, told the Huffington Post. “I would be flabbergasted if they didn’t file a suit.”
If so, it may be difficult to serve Wilson. Few know where he is.
On Monday, the New York Times published an article reporting Wilson’s recent marriage that said remarkably little, but told a lot. The article, which identified the block where Wilson owns a home, originally showed a picture of the house. That image was later deleted. The piece “contained information that should not have been made public,” an editor’s note said amid criticism the article opened Wilson up to attack.
“We are paying $5k cash for location of Ofc. Darren Wilson,” one St. Louis group called “RbG Black Rebels” tweeted this month. “Real $, no joke, no crime we just wanna get his photo and ask him a few questions.” It’s only one of many possible threats against Wilson, his attorneys have said.
Wilson now travels under a cloak of secrecy with little outside protection. Other agencies like the FBI have the resources to provide endangered agents some modicum of security, transferring him or her to a different location and bequeathing a new name. But for Wilson, employed by a small department, that option isn’t available. “It’s far more difficult for local law enforcement, particularly for a small department such as Ferguson,” former FBI assistant director Ron Hosko told the Guardian. “Because of the expense and because being a police officer in city A, you’ve been sworn in to serve there, [and it] is not a guarantee that you can be a police officer in city B.”
The officer now faces an uncertain future, with uncertain chances of ever being a cop again. But there is nonetheless one person who may know the stresses Darren Wilson is undergoing.
Last February, George Zimmerman sat for his first interviews following his acquittal on murder charges in the death of black teenager Trayvon Martin. In his interview with CNN, he looked haggard and morose. “I have a lot of people saying that, you know, they guarantee that they’re going to kill me and I’ll never be free,” he said. “I realize that they don’t know me. They know who I was portrayed to be.”
It may be the same for Wilson, wrote George Washington University professor Orin Kerr in the Volokh Conspiracy. While some may believe the case has reached a resolution, there are clearly many who do not. According to that narrative, he said, there will be thousands who believe “we had a sham grand jury process destined to fail, gutting a strong case that should have gone to trial in open court. The fact that the grand jury wouldn’t even indict shows that the legal system doesn’t value the life of Brown, and implicitly, all young black men. So from that perspective, the system failed. There was a sham investigation followed by a sham grand jury decision. Now we can’t move on at all.”