FERGUSON, Mo. – A look at the key figures in the case of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed when he was fatally shot by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Aug. 9 — a death that has stoked days of violent unrest north of St. Louis.
Michael Brown graduated from Normandy High School this spring and was preparing to attend Vatterott College, where he planned to study to become a heating and air conditioning technician. Friends say he eventually wanted to go into business for himself.
Relatives and friends described Brown, who grew up in a tough neighbourhood, as a quiet, gentle giant who stood around 6-foot-3 and weighed nearly 300 pounds.
Police said Brown was a suspect in the “strong-arm” robbery of a convenience store moments before he was killed. A family attorney said Brown may have made mistakes, but didn’t deserve to be shot. Others doubted Brown’s involvement in the crime.
“He was just looking forward to getting on with his life,” said his grandmother, Desuirea Harris. “He was on his way.”
OFFICER DARREN WILSON
Some of the descriptions of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson are eerily similar to descriptions of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old Wilson shot to death on Aug. 9. Both men have been described as gentle and quiet. Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Wilson had no previous complaints against him and a strong record in the career he began six years ago.
“He’s devastated,” the chief said after naming Wilson as the shooter on Friday. “He never intended for this to happen. He is, and has been, an excellent police officer.”
Wilson began his career in nearby Jennings. He moved to the Ferguson job four years ago. Since the shooting, his whereabouts are unclear. Neighbors who live near his tidy brick home in another area of suburban St. Louis say they haven’t seen him for several days.
FERGUSON POLICE CHIEF THOMAS JACKSON
Thomas Jackson was a police veteran long before he came to Ferguson. He spent more than 30 years with the St. Louis County Police Department, at one point serving as commander of the Drug Task Force. Before that he was a SWAT team supervisor, undercover detective and hostage negotiator.
He heads a department with 53 officers, only three of whom are black in a town where nearly 70 per cent of the 21,000 residents are African-American.
“I’m constantly trying to recruit African-Americans and other minorities,” he has said. “But it’s an uphill battle. The minority makeup of this police department is not where I want it to be.”
Some of Jackson’s actions in the wake of the shooting have drawn criticism, including his decision to announce that Brown was a suspect in the convenience mart robbery, a move that stirred anger in the black community in Ferguson.
ST. LOUIS COUNTY PROSECUTOR BOB MCCULLOCH
Bob McCulloch was 12 years old when his father, 37-year-old police officer Paul McCulloch, was shot and killed by a black suspect in 1964.
Since his election in 1991, McCulloch has been the prosecuting attorney in St. Louis County, a Democrat who has earned a reputation for being tough on crime.
Some people, including St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, believe McCulloch cannot be objective in deciding whether charges should be filed against officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown. They wonder if losing his father in such tragic circumstances creates a built-in bias. Dooley is among those who have urged that a special prosecutor be appointed and McCulloch removed. McCulloch has no plans to give up the case.
“We will be proceeding with our duties,” McCulloch spokesman Ed Magee said last week.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL CAPT. RON JOHNSON
Capt. Ron Johnson climbed during his 27-year career from a patrolman to the chief of the 11-county Missouri State Highway Patrol division that includes the most populated region of the state — St. Louis and its suburbs. Now, he’s something of a celebrity.
Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday appointed Johnson to take command of security in Ferguson. That decision came after complaints about heavy-handedness in police handling of looting and protesters earlier in the week, when St. Louis County police were in charge.
Johnson’s calm but commanding presence has drawn high praise from many observers. When Johnson, who is black, walks down the streets of Ferguson with protesters, many shake his hand or pose for photos with him. He has carried himself with a disarming empathy, reminding locals of his Ferguson roots and suggesting that he, too, has lessons to learn from the case.
During an address on Sunday, Johnson said his son wears baggy pants and has tattoos.
“We all ought to be thanking the Browns for Michael, because Michael’s going to make it better for our sons, so they can be better black men, so they can be better for our daughters, so they can be better black women, better for me, so I can be a better black father, and we know they’re gonna make our mommas even better than they are today,” Johnson said.
Johnson apologized to Brown’s family.
“I wear this uniform, and I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry,” he said.
But the verdict on Johnson’s success is out. After a relatively peaceful first night, subsequent nights have seen police use tear gas and smoke to fight back against people throwing Molotov cocktails and aiming guns at officers.
MISSOURI GOV. JAY NIXON
Anyone who doubts Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s stance against crime need look no further than Missouri’s litany of executions. During his four terms as attorney general and two terms as governor, Missouri has executed 66 convicted killers, a total few states can match.
Nixon, 58, also is a Democrat who has been mentioned as a possible presidential or vice-presidential candidate in 2016. How things play out in Ferguson could have a dramatic impact on his political future.
Nixon drew criticism in the days immediately following the shooting for keeping a low profile. Since Thursday, he has been at the forefront, first taking over security by putting Ron Johnson in charge. Early Monday, Nixon called in the National Guard to help quell violent protesters.
He acknowledged frustration for those waiting for justice in the Michael Brown case, but said the state “must defend Ferguson from these violent interlopers so that the peaceful protests can operate in peace and the search for answers and justice can continue.”
ATTORNEY BENJAMIN CRUMP
Benjamin Crump became a national figure when he represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager fatally shot by a neighbourhood watch organizer in 2012. He’s back in the spotlight, representing Michael Brown’s family in a case that is equally racially charged.
Crump, 44, was born in North Carolina, one of nine children. Now based in Tallahassee, Florida, he rose to prominence as a lawyer known for his thoughtful prose. At times he seems to fight back his own emotions as he talks about the loss suffered by Brown’s parents. To him, the issue is simple.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat it,” Crump said last week. Brown, he said, “was executed in broad daylight.”
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER
Almost from the outset, Attorney General Eric Holder has shown a strong interest in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
Two days after Brown was killed, Holder said the case deserved a full review as the Justice Department dispatched its Community Relations Service to Ferguson to try and calm tensions. Soon thereafter, it launched an investigation to see if civil rights violations occurred. On Monday, President Barack Obama announced Holder would visit Ferguson on Wednesday to get an update on the criminal investigation and meet with local leaders.
Holder said aggressively pursuing these types of investigations is “critical for preserving trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
Holder over the weekend ordered a federal medical examiner to perform a third autopsy on Brown, in addition to the St. Louis County autopsy and a private one performed at the request of Brown’s family. Holder called the Brown family last week to express his personal condolences.