Ferguson Officer's Motives In Police Shooting Remain Murky

Aug 15, 2014
Originally published on August 15, 2014 8:02 pm

New information was released Friday about the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. The police chief finally released the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown and an incident report listing Brown as a suspect in a recent convenience store robbery. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is promising a full investigation.

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In Ferguson, Missouri, today we have now learned the identity of the officer who shot Michael Brown nearly a week after the killing. The officer's name is Darren Wilson. He's been on the police force for six years.


And there was this today from Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.


THOMAS JACKSON: What we're making available today are the dispatch records and the video footage of a robbery - a strong-armed robbery with use of force that occurred at a local convenience mart.

SIEGEL: It turns out minutes before he was killed, Michael Brown may have robbed a convenience store. Brown family lawyers acknowledge that it is Brown on a store surveillance video that the police released today.

BLOCK: Still, Officer Wilson's motives in shooting Brown remain murky. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports from Ferguson.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The internet report that police released today includes photographs and video footage which shows a large black man grabbing a small store clerk by the neck of his shirt. The report says a suspect who resembles Brown stole cigars. According to Ferguson Police Chief Jackson, soon after the robbery a call went out over the police radio describing the suspect. Officer Wilson didn't know the 18-year-old was a robbery suspect during their initial encounter - at least that's how Jackson first described the situation during a press conference this afternoon when he said Officer Wilson stopped Brown and another man...


THOMAS JACKSON: Because they were walking down the middle of the street, blocking traffic. That was it.

CORLEY: But hours later, the chief told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that Officer Wilson did think that Brown was the robbery suspect because he saw cigars in the teenager's hands. Jackson had long refused to release any information about the officer, but he said he felt he had to because of constant request from the media and others. In an appearance on CNN today, Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Michael Brown's family, acknowledged that it appears to be Michael Brown on the video from the convenience store. But he says that's irrelevant to his shooting death and the investigation.


BENJAMIN CRUMP: Just nothing but police 101 when it comes to police shootings, when they shoot innocent people. Attack the victim, assassinate their character and try to justify the actions.

CROWD: No justice. No peace. No justice. No peace.

CORLEY: Out in front of the burned-out convenience store where nightly protests have been held, Roger Hooks (ph) said the information from the Ferguson Police is hard to believe.

ROGER HOOKS: You know, I believe that they're just making excuses and covers for their actions. It still doesn't justify him being dead or him getting killed. If that was the case and he was the suspect, he should have been taken to jail and not killed.

CORLEY: The concern now, is that after a peaceful night of protest in Ferguson, the violence that erupted earlier in the week will return. Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson who's heading up the security efforts replaced local police who had patrolled in riot gear. Johnson who is from Ferguson walked through the crowd last night and says it's a practice he will continue. He added that he doesn't believe the tense situation in Ferguson is a racial one.


RONALD JOHNSON: I agree that this is not a black and white issue 'cause we all have sons and daughters. The governor talked about old wounds. This is an old wound. It's time to stop saying it's an old wound and close it for good.

CORLEY: Last night, no arrests were made during the demonstrations in Ferguson. Captain Johnson called it a great night and said people were allowed to speak without fear of retaliation. He also had a message for anyone angry about new details released today.


JOHNSON: We have to make sure that we don't burn down our own house - that we don't go down there and vandalize our own building.

CORLEY: There are two parallel investigations into the death of Michael Brown underway. The Department of Justice is handling one and St. Louis County officials the other. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon says there will be a lot of steps between now and any resolution of a case which has infuriated so many here. And he expects there will be a lot of tension at various times, but the governor wanted to make one thing clear.


GOVERNOR JAY NIXON: Nothing should deter figuring out how and why Michael Brown was killed.

CORLEY: And Nixon said before anyone reaches any conclusions, the investigations that are underway should be complete. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Ferguson, Missouri. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.