- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2014

A Missouri grand jury that heard testimony from about 60 witnesses over 70 hours declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown, sparking riots in Ferguson Monday night and protests nationwide.

St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision Monday in an unusual late-night press conference that decried reporting that included “lack of accurate detail,” inconsistent and conflicting eyewitness accounts and “interviews on social media.”

The grand jury decided “no probable cause exists” to bring any charges against Officer Wilson, who is white, Mr. McCulloch said.

“They are the only people who have heard and examined all of the evidence and all the witnesses,” he said of the grand jurors during a 30-minute announcement that panned reporting in the case.

The grand jury of nine whites and three blacks met 25 times over three months and heard testimony from three medical examiners.

President Obama made a statement from the White House in which he appealed for calm at almost the exact instant rioting broke out in Ferguson.

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While “America isn’t everything it could be,” people must respect that the decision was the grand jury’s to make, he said.

“We are a nation built on the rule of law” and “there’s never an excuse for violence.”

The Brown family said in a statement released through their attorneys that they were “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequences of his actions.”

The family, which was informed of the decision earlier Monday, also asked that people “please keep your protests peaceful,” and said “let’s not just make noise; let’s make a difference.”

Shortly after the 9 p.m. announcement, authorities released more than 1,000 pages of grand jury documents, including Officer Wilson’s testimony.

Officer Wilson told jurors that he initially encountered Brown and a friend walking in the street and, when he told them to move to a sidewalk, Brown responded with an expletive.

SEE ALSO: Ferguson: The only indictment goes to the media

Officer Wilson then noticed that Brown had a handful of cigars, “and that’s when it clicked for me,” he said, referring to a radio report minutes earlier of a robbery at a nearby convenience store.

Officer Wilson said he asked a dispatcher to send additional police, and then backed his vehicle up in front of Brown and his friend. As he tried to open the door, Officer Wilson said Brown slammed it shut.

The officer said he pushed Brown with the door and Brown hit him in the face. Officer Wilson told grand jurors he was thinking: “What do I do not to get beaten inside my car.”

“I drew my gun,” Officer Wilson told the grand jury. “I said, ‘Get back or I’m going to shoot you.’

“He immediately grabs my gun and says, ‘You are too much of a pussy to shoot me,’” Officer Wilson told grand jurors. He said Brown grabbed the gun with his right hand, twisted it and “digs it into my hip.”

Asked why he felt the need to pull his gun, Wilson told grand jurors he was concerned another punch to his face could “knock me out or worse.”

After shots were fired in the vehicle, Brown fled and Officer Wilson gave chase. At some point, Brown turned around to face the officer.

Witness accounts were conflicted about whether Brown walked, stumbled or charged back toward Officer Wilson before he was fatally wounded, Mr. McCulloch said. There were also differing accounts of how or whether Brown’s hands were raised. His body fell about 153 feet from Wilson’s vehicle.

The long-awaited decision was greeted with hundreds of protesters in front of the police station in Ferguson.

But protests in Ferguson quickly turned violent. Bottles and rocks were being thrown and some cars overturned and burned, including at least one assault on a police car.

There also were reports of multiple gunshots, a large fight and images of looting. Police ordered protesters to disperse and began using tear gas when some refused.

Protesters said one woman had a heart attack, and then was gassed by police as others attempted to carry her to safety. There was no official confirmation of casualties.

Demonstrations broke out around the nation — Times Square, South-Central Los Angeles, and U Street and the White House in Washington, D.C.

Officer Wilson had been in talks with the Ferguson Police Department about possibly resigning, but it is unclear how the grand jury’s verdict may affect those discussions.

Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat and a civil-rights icon, took to Twitter to implore people not to resort to violence.

“I know this [is] hard,” he said. “I know this is difficult. Do not succumb to the temptations of violence. There is a more powerful way.”

Likewise, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Missouri Democrat, tweeted Monday night that “African-Americans have long believed that police resort to force incautiously when dealing with their young men.”

“We hear you,” he said. “And we hurt with you. All decent Americans, black, white, brown, should also feel the pain of this family, this community.”

Officer Wilson is still a victim despite being exonerated of all charges, said Ron Hosko, former FBI assistant director.

“Although he will walk free, his life has been forever changed, as he has been exploited in a cynical effort to turn civilians against cops in fulfillment of an anti-law enforcement agenda,” said Mr. Hosko, who now serves as president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.

The grand jury’s confidential deliberations were likely contentious because of the nature of the case, Mr. Hosko told The Washington Times.

“I would suspect strongly that all the grand juries are not of a like mind on these things,” he said.

The prosecutor’s office said it would release the information, evidence, and documents in the case.

“Because of all the attention on it, the likelihood is that there will need to be a fair amount of transparency,” Mr. Hosko said. “Almost inevitably one or more grand jurors will self-identify and want to tell the story, or sell the story.”

Many of the basic facts of the encounter have been in sharp dispute since the Aug. 9 confrontation.

Officer Wilson, backed by national police groups, insists he acted in self-defense after the much larger Michael Brown assaulted him in his squad car. Brown’s defenders note that he was unarmed and say he was not a threat to the white officer when he was shot.

Angering the largely black community, Brown’s body was left to lie in the street on a hot August day for more than four hours as investigators searched for forensic evidence to piece together what happened.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. visited the St. Louis suburb nine days after the fatal encounter to talk about the shooting with residents and members of the Brown family.

In a statement released Monday night, Mr. Holder said a federal investigation into a possible civil-rights case is ongoing and that they will not be “prejudging any of the evidence.”

In his statement earlier, Mr. McCulloch had said his grand jury had access to all the same evidence that federal prosecutors would have access to.

Mr. Holder joined Mr. Obama in calling for peace, stating that violence does not honor the memory of Michael Brown.

“Michael Brown’s death was a tragedy,” Mr. Holder said. “This incident has sparked a national conversation about the need to ensure confidence between law enforcement and the communities they protect and serve. While constructive efforts are underway in Ferguson and communities nationwide, far more must be done to create enduring trust.”

All sides had been braced for weeks for a possibly violent backlash as rumors swirled that the grand jury was poised to act.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency last week in anticipation of the verdict’s announcement and mobilized the state’s National Guard to join local police in trying to contain rioting and fighting.

The governor appealed again Monday evening for “peace, restraint and respect” in reaction to the news.

Churches were set up as safe havens, the area’s most experienced police officers were deployed, protest leaders and police were in constant communication, and the National Guard was protecting critical infrastructure such as power stations and firehouses to allow law enforcement personnel to focus on maintaining calm, Mr. Nixon said.

Grand juries are supposed to represent the people, but details of the Brown case make it difficult to determine whether the panel lived up to that standard, said Steven Platt, a retired circuit court judge in Prince George’s County.

“As far as being the voice of the community, we don’t know who they are or where they are,” Mr. Platt said. “This community in Ferguson is obviously divided. Since we don’t know who they are, we don’t know how well they represent that.”

Mr. Platt said many people would react without trying to understand why the grand jury reached its decision.

“There’s people who have already formed an opinion on what the grand jury will do, and if the grand jury doesn’t do what they want, there will probably be an adverse reaction. Hopefully, it won’t be a violent reaction,” he said.

Racial tensions

Racial tensions in Ferguson came to a head in the first days and weeks after the Aug. 9 shooting. The 18-year-old Brown was walking with a friend when he was stopped by Officer Wilson.

The most common narrative given was that Brown and his friend were walking in the street when Officer Wilson pulled over in his car to tell them to move onto the sidewalk.

News reports indicate that the officer was informed sometime during the encounter that the two teens might have been involved in a grocery store burglary that day.

The teen and the police officer became embroiled in a confrontation, and Officer Wilson shot and killed Brown, claiming he acted in self-defense. But some witnesses said Brown had his hands above his head and was not acting in an intimidating manner when he was shot. Brown was later found to be unarmed.

The event sparked protests and riots in Ferguson and set off a national debate about race relations and police tactics.

Protesters in Ferguson took up the slogan of “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and led several marches calling for murder charges to be brought against Officer Wilson. A few of the marches turned into violent clashes that destroyed shops and houses.

The response of some police officers, however, renewed fears of law enforcement misconduct. Pictures from Ferguson repeatedly showed police in full riot gear, sometimes armed with Pentagon-issued military weapons such as sniper rifles, and accompanied by armored vehicles, confronting unarmed groups of protesters.

Several reporters said they were threatened by police for trying to record the protests, and in one instance a Missouri officer threatened to kill a reporter if the journalist did not leave the area. The officer later resigned.

The tensions prompted calls from citizens to investigate how the police were able to obtain military equipment. Several members of Congress said they would support legislation that would “demilitarize” the police.

“Our main streets should be a place for business, families and relaxation, not tanks and M16s,” Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr., a Georgia Democrat, said in a letter to colleagues seeking support for a bill that would end programs that allow the police to buy surplus military equipment.

Though tensions have been high since August, the number of rallies, protests and riots declined as residents waited for the grand jury and federal investigators to finish their reviews.

Mr. Nixon said he was taking precautions to stop violence that may erupt.

“That ugliness was not representative of Missouri, and it cannot be repeated,” he said recently.

Mr. Nixon’s decision to declare a state of emergency, however, was met by criticism from some civil rights groups, including the NAACP.

“The more than 200,000 people who descended on Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, proved that protests don’t need to be violent to be powerful,” the organization said in a press release. “From the Boston Tea Party to the Montgomery bus boycotts, the ability to protest is woven into the very fabric of our nation and should not be stifled by presumptuous leadership.”

Mr. Nixon traveled to St. Louis from the state capital in Jefferson City on Monday as word leaked that the grand jury decision was imminent.

Jennifer Pompi and Ben Wolfgang contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

• Phillip Swarts can be reached at pswarts@washingtontimes.com.

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