Thursday, January 18, 2018
Public safety

Ferguson police identify officer, say Michael Brown robbed a store(w/video)

FERGUSON, Mo. — One day after roiling tensions over the police shooting of a black teenager here began to subside, emotions flared anew Friday as the police identified the officer involved but also released evidence saying the victim was a suspect in a convenience store robbery moments before being shot.

The manner in which the police here released the information, which included a 19-page police report on the robbery but no new details about the shooting, led to a spectacle of dueling police news conferences, one led by a white officer who seemed ill at-ease and defensive, and the other led by a charismatic black officer who expressed solidarity with the crowd as he pleaded for peace.

The white officer, Ferguson police Chief Thomas Jackson, changed his account several times during the day, whereas the black officer, Capt. Ronald Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, expressed his displeasure with how the information had been released.

"I would have liked to have been consulted," he said pointedly about the pairing of the officer's identity with the robbery accusation.

All week, community members had demanded the name of the officer who killed Michael Brown, 18, on Aug. 9, but when it finally came, it was accompanied by surveillance video that appeared to show Brown shoving a store clerk as he took a box of cigarillos.

Brown's family, their lawyer and others in the community expressed disgust, accusing the police of trying to divert attention from the central issue — the unexplained shooting of an unarmed young man.

"It is smoke and mirrors," Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Brown family, said of the robbery allegations. "Nothing, based on the facts before us, justifies the execution-style murder by this police officer in broad daylight."

The videotapes, however, seemed to contradict the image portrayed by Brown's family of a gentle teenager opposed to violence and on his way to college.

Johnson, who grew up in the area and had been brought in by the governor Thursday to restore peace after days of confrontations between demonstrators and police in riot gear and military-style vehicles, said he had not been told of any plan to release the video of the robbery along with the name of the officer. But he sought to calm people down, saying, "In our anger, we have to make sure that we don't burn down our own house."

Johnson won over many but also faced skepticism over his role, along with anguished questions about who the police really represent and the lack of educational and economic opportunities in Ferguson.

"I find it utterly disgusting," one man shouted at him. "What am I supposed to tell my people? It looks like you're a figurehead."

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, stood next to Johnson at their news conference and stressed that the details released Friday were not "the full picture." He added, "I think the focal point here remains to figure out how and why Michael Brown was killed and to get justice as appropriate in that situation."

Later Friday, the Justice Department, which is conducting a separate civil rights investigation into the killing, announced that teams of FBI agents would in the next several days canvass the neighborhood where the shooting took place.

At the beginning of the day, Jackson said at a news conference that the officer who shot Brown was Darren Wilson, who has served four years in Ferguson and two in another local department, and had no disciplinary charges. Wilson, who is white, has been placed on leave, and his location is unknown. His photo was not released.

But the release of his name was overshadowed by the simultaneous announcement of the robbery allegations, leading to questions about timing and motives.

In a later news conference Friday afternoon at Forestwood Park, a sports complex in Ferguson, Jackson said Wilson had not been aware that Brown "was a suspect in the case" and instead had stopped him and a companion "because they were walking down the street blocking traffic."

But that highlights the central issue: How did an officer's interaction with an unarmed young man escalate into a deadly shooting?

The videotapes, from an unidentified convenience store, show a tall, burly man, identified by the police as Brown, shoving aside a clerk as he left the store with an unpaid-for box of Swisher Sweets. According to a police report, Brown was accompanied at the store by his friend Dorian Johnson, who was also with him when he was shot.

Dorian Johnson has said he was in the store with Brown and told investigators from the FBI and St. Louis County that Brown did take cigarillos, Johnson's lawyer, Freeman Bosley, told MSNBC.

"They just want to make the case seem more reasonable on their side," said Mark Jackson, who has participated in the demonstrations. "But at the end of the day, the man didn't have a gun, so they didn't have to shoot him."

In his afternoon appearance, the police chief sought to explain why the information was released Friday. He said his hand was forced by numerous requests by the news media under public records laws. He acknowledged that he had not alerted the other police departments about the tape. "I should have done that," he said.

   
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