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PunditFact: Checking Ferguson shooting comments from the Sunday news shows

Ferguson, Mo., police Chief Thomas Jackson is shown Saturday leaving the parking lot of a gas station, which was burned during protests, after he announced the name of the police officer responsible for the Aug. 9 shooting death of teenager Michael Brown. The officer was identified as Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the police force. Brown’s killing sparked several days of violent protests in the city.

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Ferguson, Mo., police Chief Thomas Jackson is shown Saturday leaving the parking lot of a gas station, which was burned during protests, after he announced the name of the police officer responsible for the Aug. 9 shooting death of teenager Michael Brown. The officer was identified as Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the police force. Brown’s killing sparked several days of violent protests in the city.

The killing of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer in a St. Louis suburb is raising questions about the makeup of the police department and its response to the Aug. 9 shooting.

In some cases, answers are hard to come by.

On Sunday, actor and civil rights activist Jesse Williams appeared on CNN's State of the Union to discuss the shooting. Williams, right, best known for his role as a doctor on Grey's Anatomy, emphasized that journalists should not sensationalize findings that don't answer questions about why 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by police — like a security video Ferguson authorities released of Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store minutes before he was killed.

"This started with a kid getting shot and killed and left in the street for four hours," Williams said. "I've never seen a white body left in the street for four hours in the sweltering heat. I've never — you know, the cop doesn't call — doesn't call in the shooting. The body isn't put in an ambulance. It's (shuttled) away in some shady unmarked SUV."

We wondered about Williams' assertion that the officer involved in the shooting, Darren Wilson, failed to call in the incident. What we found is a situation currently too murky to render a judgment.

But here's what we know.

There are two sources that could be seen as backing up Williams' claim.

One is the lawyer for Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown at the moment of the confrontation with police and fled the scene unharmed. According to the Washington Post, Johnson's attorney, former St. Louis mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., said Saturday that the Ferguson police officer "doesn't attempt to resuscitate. He does not call for medical help. The officer didn't call it in that someone had been shot."

Additionally, the hactivist group known as Anonymous released audio from the St. Louis County dispatch from the afternoon of Brown's death. According to the Post, the authenticity of the recordings has been confirmed.

In the recordings, a dispatcher said Ferguson police asked for help to assist with crowd control in the area of the shooting and asked for permission to send an officer.

Moments later, the dispatcher said she hears an officer is involved in a shooting, but the information is coming from local media.

"We're just getting information from the news, and we just called Ferguson back again and they don't know anything about it," she says.

Though more information is needed to explain why the Ferguson Police Department told St. Louis County "they don't know anything about it," it doesn't necessarily mean that Wilson did not call in the shooting.

In fact, incident reports released by Ferguson police indicate a swift response.

A time line produced by St. Louis Public Radio based on police reports breaks down police action Aug. 9, including the convenience store robbery and the shooting.

• 12:00:07 p.m., Wilson left a scene where he was assisting with a "sick call."

• 12:01:50 p.m., a shooting event is opened by the Ferguson Police Department.

• 12:02:22 p.m., Ferguson dispatch alerts another officer, who is en route and arrives on scene.

• 12:04:55 p.m. EMS is contacted.

None of this makes clear who made the initial call to police. It is possible dispatch sent an officer based on a report of a shooting from a witness, or that the officer may have been nearby and responded independently.

One statistic that we could verify, however, came from NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who filled in as host on Meet the Press.

Mitchell, describing the tension between police officers and the people living in Ferguson, said that "you've got three black officers and 50 white officers with a town that is 67 percent African-American."

Those figures basically are correct, as there may be as many as four black officers. We rate the claim Mostly True.

Mitchell's statistic about Ferguson's black population checks out through Census Bureau information. As of 2010, 67.4 percent of the city's 21,000 residents are black, and 29.3 percent are white.

Ferguson police Chief Thomas Jackson, who is white, told the Los Angeles Times that the police department has 53 officers, three of whom are black. He also said that the other 50 officers are white, according to newspaper reports.

Tim Zoll, a spokesman for the Ferguson Police Department, said Sunday that there are actually four African-American officers among the 53-person officer corps.

Whether the number is three or four is a minor point.

By comparison, the racial makeup of the St. Petersburg Police Department is closer to the African-American share of the St. Petersburg population than Ferguson. As of 2010, the city is 24 percent black, and black officers make up 14 percent of the city's sworn police officers.

The story is similar in Tampa, where African-Americans make up 26 percent of the population and about 14 percent of the police department's sworn personnel.

Aaron Sharockman and Linda Qiu contributed to this report. Read the full fact-checks at PunditFact.com.

The statement

In Ferguson, Mo., "you've got three black officers and 50 white officers with a town that is 67 percent African-American."

Andrea Mitchell, on Meet the Press

The ruling

PunditFact ruling: Mostly True

Ferguson police officials have given differing figures on the number of African-Americans in the department, saying three or four. Otherwise, Mitchell's claim is on the mark. We rate it Mostly True.

PunditFact: Checking Ferguson shooting comments from the Sunday news shows 08/17/14 [Last modified: Sunday, August 17, 2014 11:30pm]
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