FERGUSON, Mo. – Police bowed to public pressure Friday and named Darren Wilson as the officer who shot to death unarmed teenager Michael Brown, and they released a report that said Brown was being sought in connection with a robbery minutes before the fatal encounter.
At a brief appearance, during which he took no questions from reporters, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson described Wilson as a six-year veteran of the Police Department with no prior disciplinary problems.
Police gave the media a copy of a police report written about a call that was received regarding a strong-arm robbery that had occurred at a local convenience store. Portions of the alleged robbery were captured on surveillance cameras. Jackson did not identify Brown as a suspect in that incident, but the police report did.
The release of the information drew a quick rebuke from Benjamin Crump, who is representing the Brown family and released a statement on their behalf:
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“Michael Brown’s family is beyond outraged at the devious way the police chief has chosen to disseminate piecemeal information in a manner intended to assassinate the character of their son, following such a brutal assassination of his person in broad daylight,” Crump said in the statement.
“There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution-style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender.”
He said that in the days it took to release the information from the Saturday shooting, the distribution of still photographs of a robbery allegedly involving Brown, and the fact the police did not release a photograph of the officer “is the reason why the family and the local community have such distrust for the local law enforcement agencies.”
He said the family will focus on information including the autopsy and ballistics reports.
The police announcements did little to alleviate anger and skepticism and initially appeared to bring a resurgence of public bitterness toward Ferguson’s police. Many Ferguson residents expressed disbelief that Brown, who was 18, had been involved in any wrongdoing. Whatever the circumstances, they said Wilson had no reason to shoot him.
“It took them too long to say what his (the officer’s) name was,” said Tatinisha Wheeler, 30, of St. Louis. “Why are we just now knowing there was a robbery?
“It’s the first time everybody heard about it because there wasn’t no damn robbery,” she added.
Jessica Holmes, 26, of Ferguson, said “I think it’s a cover-up, basically.”
Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, whom Gov. Jay Nixon has assigned to take over security in Ferguson, expressed concern that even as police released the robbery information and photographs of the incident, they refused to take reporters’ questions.
“These are two separate issues,” Johnson, speaking to reporters on the street immediately after Jackson’s announcement, said of the reported robbery of Brown’s death. “I’m not going to say one justifies the other. I think if we’re going to give answers, we need not give hints. We need to say it.”
“It’s a bunch of bull crap,” a man who gave his name as Leon Nelson told reporters on the sidewalk.
“If there was a robbery, we’d have (known) that day. It wouldn’t take six or seven days,” said a woman who did not give her name.
Most in the mainly black crowd said even vaguely linking Brown to a robbery was evidence of what they say is racism in Ferguson’s overwhelmingly white Police Department.
“If it had been the other way around and a black man had killed a white kid, we’d have known in 15 minutes,” the woman said. “It wouldn’t have taken six or seven days.”
Later, Nixon appeared before the media and an impassioned crowd of citizens for a news conference that also gave residents a chance to unload on the officials.
“We have children and families that we love. If we cannot trust our police officers, who can we trust?” one woman in the crowd lamented.
Nixon, when asked if he thought Ferguson police had mishandled the situation after Brown’s shooting, said, “No.” But he described the community reaction as “an appropriate outpouring of angst” and said the focus should be on how and why Brown died.
He also said that the investigation would take time and would not be easy.
“I think there are going to be some bumps along this road to justice,” Nixon said. “I think there are going to be some moments of angst between now and the finish line.”
Prior to Friday police had released few details of the shooting, saying that Brown was killed after a struggle that began in the officer’s car. Several witnesses have said Brown was shot several times while retreating with his hands raised. The lack of details was repeatedly cited in public complaints about a lack of transparency in the police investigation.
The report also said Brown and a second man identified as Dorian Johnson, 22, entered the store. It said information from surveillance cameras, a clerk and a patron in the store, whose names were redacted, indicated that Brown told a clerk he wanted cigars.
Brown then grabbed a box of cigars and turned to leave, the report said. When someone came out from behind the counter to confront him, Brown “forcefully pushed him back into a display rack” and left the store with Johnson, it said. It was accompanied by photographs taken from the video surveillance that showed a large man in a red baseball cap towering over a smaller man in an apparent altercation inside the store.
Jackson described this timeline before the shooting:
Police received a call at 11:51 a.m. on Aug. 9 of a “strong-arm” robbery at an area convenience store. A box of cigars had been stolen, according to the police report.
One minute later, police were given details of the suspects. Jackson did not provide those details to reporters.
Wilson responded to the call. He encountered Brown at 12:01 p.m. Within minutes, Brown was dead and Ferguson was engulfed in turmoil that grew as police, citing fears for the officer’s security, withheld his name from the public.
When still photographs of the robbery were shown on the television at a nearby McDonald’s, watchers started comparing details of the suspect’s clothing to what Brown was wearing when he was shot and killed, arguing Brown wasn’t the man shown in the pictures.
Outside, Erick Winston, 42, a minister in Ferguson, said he’d brought his daughter to Jackson’s news conference “just to see how the process goes, so that the facts come out.”
Of the robbery revelation, Winston said, “Even if he was a robbery suspect, he was still unarmed. The procedure (for police dealing with robbery suspects) is to call for backup. How this ended was totally uncalled for, regardless of whether he was a suspect, and if he did it at all, we don’t know.”
Local authorities are investigating the case, as are the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department.