Yamiche Alcindor et al., USA Today, November 25, 2014
A white police officer will not face charges for fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager in a case that set off violent protests and racial unrest throughout the nation.
A St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson, 28, for firing six shots in an August confrontation that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch said Monday night.
Crowds of protesters filled streets near the Ferguson police station following the announcement. A police car and stores were set on fire, other stores were looted, gunfire was heard and bricks were hurled. Police said they had been fired on and responded with smoke bombs and pepper spray before using tear gas.
Police later said they came under heavy automatic weapon fire, and some buildings were left to burn because of the danger. County police said an officer suffered a gunshot wound, but it was unclear if it was because of the protest violence.
Protests sprang up in cities from New York to Los Angeles and remained mostly peaceful. At least half a dozen commercial airline flights into St. Louis were diverted out of concerns about the unrest.
In Washington, President Obama appeared before TV cameras. “We need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” he said in calling for peaceful protests. But Obama said the Ferguson case “speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation.”
Prosecutor McCulloch made the announcement in an unusual nighttime presentation in a courtroom. He spoke at length about media coverage of the case and what he called the unreliability of eyewitness accounts. He said the grand jury weighed evidence and testimony before concluding there was no probable cause to indict the officer.
“The duty of the grand jury is to separate fact from fiction,” McCulloch said.
He said prosecuting attorneys presented five potential indictments to the grand jury, and all were rejected.
In grand jury testimony released by prosecutors Monday night, Wilson, the officer, described the confrontation and said that Brown refused his instructions to stop walking in the street. He said Brown cursed him, then slammed the officer’s car door shut as he was trying to exit his vehicle.
He said Brown appeared to be trying “almost like to intimidate or overpower me.” They scuffled and Brown hit the officer, Wilson testified.
“When I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding Hulk Hogan,” Wilson said.
He had no Taser weapon and felt his mace spray would not work, Wilson said: “So the only other option I thought I had was my gun.” He drew it, he said, and told Brown to “get back or I’m going to shoot you.” He said Brown grabbed the gun with his right hand and twisted it, pushing it down into Wilson’s hip, before the officer fired.
Wilson could still face civil rights charges brought by the Justice Department or a civil wrongful death lawsuit filed by Brown’s parents.