The fatal shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo., changed forever the lives of dozens of people – his parents, the police officer who killed him, the city’s police chief, the county’s prosecutor, the man tapped by Gov. Jay Nixon to restore calm to the city.
Some are trying to find peace in the shadows, some are fending off their grief in the spotlight. One year later, here’s where some of those key players are today.
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The parents: Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr.
In October, a few weeks before a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing her son, Lesley McSpadden led hundreds of protesters marching along West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson.
She hasn’t stopped protesting. Since those tumultuous days last fall, McSpadden has become an activist in her own right.
In early March she participated in activities in Selma, Ala., marking the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” Noting the presence of Brown’s family, Aljazeera America wrote that “a new generation of civil rights protesters was born last August.”
In July, McSpadden showed her solidarity with other families who had lost black sons at the hands of police and other acts of violence as she sat alongside a group of grieving mothers in a New Jersey church.
Michael Brown Sr. told USA Today this week that he, too, plans to remain active in efforts to get justice for his son and others killed by police officers. He has started a foundation, Chosen for Change, designed to empower youths and strengthen their families.
“It’s a lot of things that still need to be changed outside of Ferguson,” Brown said.
He hopes that the one-year anniversary of his son’s death passes peacefully. “We don’t need no destruction going on around that time,” he said. “We are still mourning the loss of our son.”
McSpadden and Brown have filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit against the city of Ferguson, Wilson and former Police Chief Thomas Jackson.
The friend: Dorian Johnson
Dorian Johnson has largely avoided the media since the day he was walking down Canfield Drive in Ferguson with his friend Michael Brown minutes before Brown was fatally shot by Wilson.
Johnson’s eyewitness account of how his friend raised his hands into the air as Wilson approached him with a gun gave rise to the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” mantra.
In an interview this week with the Riverfront Times in St. Louis, Johnson talks about how he still fears retaliation from law enforcement and vigilantes. “Dorian Johnson has found little peace in the year since Brown’s death,” the Times writes.
In December the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that St. Louis city had hired him for a temporary job as a forestry worker.
“At the time I was working there, there were incidents where cars were following me to work,” Johnson says. “I can’t walk out of my house without someone I don’t know knowing me. They ask me for autographs, pictures, hugs, can I come to their church. I’ve been invited to meet people’s families. I speak to anyone who speak to me, and it’s good and bad. You can’t really trust someone you don’t know.”
In May an attorney for Johnson announced that his client is suing the city of Ferguson, Wilson and Ferguson’s former police chief for psychological injury, emotional distress and other damages Johnson says the shooting caused him.
The day after the lawsuit was announced, Johnson made national news again. He and two of his brothers were at a house party in St. Louis when someone called the police to report that the group might have guns or knives.
“They came like they already knew somebody was going to jail,” Johnson says. “Me and my brothers just standing there, like, ‘OK, we’re not doing nothing, so I’m not (gonna) run and make it seem like we’re doing something.’ So we just stood there.”
According to a police report, one officer saw a bulge in Johnson’s brother’s waistband that he thought was a concealed gun. When the officer grabbed the brother, the other two brothers scuffled with police. All three brothers were arrested – two later charged with resisting arrest – and Johnson’s mugshot made national news. He lost his job at a restaurant because of the arrest.
“It does sadden me that it seems like Darren Wilson just fell off the face of the earth,” he told the Times. “I mean, I can pick my nose and it’ll be on the news. Who’s to say what Darren Wilson is doing right now?”
The cop: Darren Wilson
Wilson is staying out of sight.
Held legally blameless for Brown’s death, Wilson, 29, broke his silence in recent days in an interview published by The New Yorker.
He and his wife, Barb, also a former Ferguson police officer, and their baby, born in March, have been living for several months on a dead-end street outside of St. Louis, according to the magazine.
Wilson resigned from his job with the police department in November, five days after a grand jury decided not to indict him in Brown’s death.
Supporters, some of whom hail him as a hero, raised nearly half a million dollars to pay his legal expenses and buy him a house, the magazine reports.
By design, he isn’t easy to find. Even most of his friends don’t know where he lives. The death threats he began receiving after the shooting still come; people threatened his unborn child.
Security cameras alert him to intruders. The family spends little time outside in their yard.
Police departments he has interviewed with for a new job won’t hire him. He reportedly worked for a while in a shoe warehouse.
Sources tells London’s Daily Mail Online that Wilson is studying criminal justice at a local college, is writing a memoir and is planning to become a motivational speaker “to do some good in the world.”
The prosecutor: Bob McCulloch
The St. Louis County prosecuting attorney was criticized for being soft on Wilson when a grand jury, after spending months reviewing evidence, decided in November 2014 not to charge the police officer with a crime.
People accused McCulloch, who is still the county’s top prosecutor, of letting his personal experiences get in the way: His police officer father was shot and killed by a black suspect in 1964.
To this day McCulloch continues to publicly defend his handling of the grand jury.
“You hear that nonsense about how, of course, a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich,” he told a packed audience of law students, professors and staff at a law school event at the University of Missouri in April.
“But at some point the prosecutor’s got to stand up in front a jury and prove that ham sandwich actually committed a crime.”
In early July a judge threw out a lawsuit by activists seeking to kick McCulloch out of office for his actions during the Ferguson investigation.
McCulloch “faithfully performed his duty,” wrote St. Louis County Circuit Judge Joseph Walsh III.
The activists plan to appeal the ruling.
The police chief: Thomas Jackson
Though he had more than 30 years of law enforcement work under his belt, Jackson had been Ferguson’s police chief for just five years when the Brown shooting took place.
At the time he led an almost-all-white department of 53 officers serving a town that was mostly black.
His handling of the shooting’s aftermath led protesters and elected officials alike to call for his resignation.
He was criticized for the department’s aggressive response to protesters and for taking a week to release Wilson’s name. The same day Wilson’s name was revealed, the police department released security camera video that allegedly showed Brown stealing a box of cigars and shoving a store clerk right before the shooting.
Jackson steadfastly ignored calls for his resignation, insisting that he wanted to work with Ferguson community members to rebuild the department’s standing with them and recruit more minority officers.
Then, in March, the Justice Department released a scathing report accusing the city of Ferguson of using its police department and municipal court to make money off of black residents.
Black drivers were more than twice as likely as others to be searched during routine traffic stops and were more likely to face excessive force from police, often during unwarranted stops, the report found.
Less than a week later, Jackson resigned. Ferguson officials fell like dominoes. The municipal judge, city manager and two police supervisors resigned; the top clerk of the court was fired.
Jackson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he believed it was time for the city to move on. “This city needs to move forward without any distractions.”
He reportedly received a severance payment of about $96,000, along with health insurance for a year.
The peacemaker: Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson
Appointed by Nixon to take over the security command in Ferguson in the violent aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting, Johnson became an immediate calming presence on the scene – and an instant media celebrity.
And he’s still on the job.
After three nights of violence, the head of the Highway Patrol’s 11-county division that includes the St. Louis area led hundreds of marchers in a peaceful demonstration down Ferguson’s West Florissant Avenue. Protesters took their pictures with him.
Here was a law enforcement officials who told reporters that he had a “big dog in this fight” because he’d “experienced some of the same issues that protesters have brought up. I know what it feels like to get stopped when I did nothing wrong.”
And, he apologized to Brown’s family. “I wear this uniform, and I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry,” said the north St. Louis native.
An article in The Nation pondered: “Is Ferguson’s Ron Johnson the New Captain America?”
Lots of people thought so, and continue to think so.
In November Ebony magazine named him one of the 100 most influential African-Americans in the country, placing him on a list with Oprah Winfrey and LeBron James.
In May he served as grand marshal at St. Louis’ annual Annie Malone May Day parade, the country’s nation’s oldest and second largest African-American parade.
In June he spent a day mentoring a 12-year-old boy from Uganda, letting him ride along in his patrol car.
Last month Johnson joined other community leaders who visited a summer camp for kids in Ferguson and talked to the youths about staying on the right path in life.
Johnson believes that faith can play a vital role in solving racially charged conflicts with police, he told a gathering of faith leaders in Boston in April.
“In these situations, we need to talk about faith and not be ashamed of it,” said Johnson, who often opened meetings and press conferences in Ferguson with a prayer. “That can be our strength.”