FERGUSON, Mo. – Police on Friday identified the officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in a St. Louis suburb and released documents alleging the young man had been suspected of stealing a $48.99 box of cigars from a convenience store in a “strong-arm” robbery shortly before he was killed.
Police Chief Thomas Jackson said the officer did not know the teen was a robbery suspect at the time of the shooting and stopped Michael Brown and a companion “because they were walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic.”
Darren Wilson, 28, has been an officer for six years and had no complaints filed against him, Jackson said.
Brown’s death ignited four days of police clashes with furious protesters. The tension eased Thursday after the governor turned oversight of the protests over to the Missouri Highway Patrol. Within hours, the mood on the street eased, with state troopers walking side-by-side with peaceful protesters and no hint of violence. Gone were the police in riot gear and armoured vehicles, pointing assault rifles at protesters and firing tear gas into crowds.
On Friday night, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson linked arms with protesters as they marched to the site where Brown was killed.
Brown’s relatives quickly questioned whether the police officer really believed Brown was a suspect and said no robbery would justify shooting the teen after he put his hands up.
“It’s bad enough they assassinated him, and now they’re trying to assassinate his character,” the family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, said.
An attorney for the teen who was with Brown on the day of the shooting said his client has acknowledged to investigators that Brown took cigars from the store.
Wilson has been on administrative leave since the Aug. 9 shooting.
Jackson described Wilson as a “gentle, quiet man” who had been an excellent officer. He’s been on the Ferguson force for four years.
At 11:51 a.m. on the day of the shooting, police records show, authorities received a call reporting a robbery at the Ferguson Market. An unidentified officer was dispatched, arriving within three minutes. The officer interviewed an employee and customer, who gave a description of a man who stole the cigars and walked off with another man toward another store.
Descriptions of the suspect were broadcast over the police radio. The officer did not find the suspects on the street or at the other store, the reports said.
The robber took a box of cigars valued at $48.99, according to the reports. The suspects were identified as 18-year-old Michael Brown and 22-year-old Dorian Johnson.
Separately, Wilson had been responding to a nearby call involving a sick child. Shortly after that, he encountered Michael Brown walking down a street. The documents contained no description of what happened between Brown and Wilson.
Johnson has told reporters that the officer ordered the pair to move onto the sidewalk, then grabbed his friend’s neck and tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He said Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times.
Police said they found evidence of the stolen merchandise on Brown’s body.
Crump noted that police did not release a photo of the officer but released images from the store’s security video that they say show Brown grabbing a man inside the store. Crump said he had not seen the photos.
Police “are choosing to disseminate information that is very strategic to try to help them justify the ‘execution-style'” killing, said Crump, who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager fatally shot by a Florida neighbourhood watch organizer who was later acquitted of murder.
Associated Press writers Jim Salter and Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this report.