Using previously unseen surveillance video, a documentary challenges the police narrative that Michael Brown committed a strong-armed robbery moments before he was fatally shot in August 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.
The documentary, “Stranger Fruit” by Jason Pollock, uses the video from the store to assert that Brown’s altercation with store employees was part of a misunderstanding tied to a possible earlier drug transaction.
The documentary debuted Saturday at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
It uses the new video to show that Brown showed up at Ferguson Market and Liquor about 1:15 a.m. the day he was fatally shot, according to a clip of the documentary included in a story by The New York Times. CNN also broadcast a video clip.
Pollock argues that Brown gave the clerks a bag of marijuana. The employees smelled it and passed it around. Then they allegedly gave Brown two boxes of cigarillos.
Brown started to leave with a bag but turned around and handed it back to the clerks to hold for him, Pollock said in the documentary.
The next day, Brown went back to the store about 11:50 a.m. to get his items.
“Mike did not rob the store,” Pollock said.
“It was a misunderstanding,” Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, said in the documentary.
A lawyer for the convenience store and its employees told The New York Times that they strongly dispute that version of events and that the new footage is unrelated to Brown’s later visit.
“There was no transaction,” Jay Kanzler told The Times. “There was no understanding. No agreement. Those folks didn’t sell him cigarillos for pot. The reason he gave it back is he was walking out the door with unpaid merchandise and they wanted it back.”
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch interview Saturday that the fact that Brown was in the store earlier that day was “news to me,” but not necessarily surprising because the Ferguson Market was frequented by many people in the community.
But he said St. Louis County Police primarily focused on investigating the shooting, with Ferguson police handling the incident at the store.
Brown, 18, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson after a confrontation on Aug. 9, 2014.
A grand jury declined to press charges against Wilson, and a U.S. Justice Department investigation cleared Wilson, concluding that he had acted in self-defense. Wilson resigned in November 2014.
But a separate report showed that Ferguson police routinely violated African-Americans’ constitutional rights. Brown’s death became a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement, which brought attention to police killings of black males across the nation.
Outrage over the shooting led to months of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson.