Any day now, a St. Louis County grand jury is expected to announce its decision about whether to indict white Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson for shooting unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
Whatever the grand jury decides, the process has already been marred by a series of leaks, distrust between the Brown family and prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s office, and anger from many in the Ferguson community who believe Wilson should have been indicted months ago. And as TPM reported, it is exceedingly rare in the U.S. for a police officer to be charged for a shooting in the line of duty.
Authorities already seem to be preparing for the worst. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) declared a state of emergency this week and activated the Missouri National Guard.
Despite the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings, the investigation has been going on for three months and plenty of information has become public. Here’s everything we know so far about the decision that many worry could ignite the nation’s racial tensions once again:
It is unusual for the subject of a grand jury investigation to testify, but the prosecutor always said that Wilson would be given the opportunity, and Wilson took it. He reportedly testified for four hours.
The shell of Wilson’s story, which he presumably outlined in great detail, has slowly been parceled out to the press since then. The gist of it was that Wilson had stopped Brown and a friend for walking down the middle of the street, and the situation escalated when Brown reached for the officer’s gun.
Independent experts initially were quoted saying the official autopsy report, which was leaked to a local newspaper, appeared to align with Wilson’s story. “Foreign particulate matter” was found on Brown’s hand, which would be consistent with Brown’s hand being near Wilson’s gun when it was fired.
However, one of the experts quoted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch later disputed how her analysis was portrayed by the newspaper. She went so far as to say she had been taken out of context.
Throughout the three-month process, information has been leaked fairly often, sometimes with what has looked like a strategic purpose.
Back in August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder lambasted the “selective” leaks in the investigation. Two months later, he was said to be “exasperated.”
The leaks stood in contrast to some of the information in the case that was supposed to be public, such as the Ferguson Police Department’s official police report on the shooting, which was heavily redacted.
But whatever the motivation, the pattern of the leaked information has corroborated Wilson’s story. The Washington Post reported in October about a half dozen unnamed African-American witnesses supported the officer’s account. The witnesses hadn’t spoken to the press but had testified before the grand jury, the Post reported. Ballistics and other evidence also backed the officer — according to the anonymous sources quoted in the press. Others sources told the Post federal civil rights charges appeared unlikely for the same reasons.
At one point, someone even began posting on Twitter what appeared to be information from the grand jury. The Twitter user said she knew someone on the jury and there wasn’t enough evidence to indict Wilson. The prosecutor overseeing the process vowed to investigate whether a juror had committed misconduct. But he later cleared the jury, saying the Twitter account had been “hacked.”
Brown Family’s Discontent
Michael Brown’s family and their attorneys have expressed significant doubts about the process, as TPM documented last month when investigating whether the family had been consulted about what should be presented to the grand jury.
“The whole process concerns us, the entire process,” Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the family, told TPM at the time. “I think there’s a reason why the people mistrust the local law enforcement so much in the Ferguson community. They think this secret proceeding is going to be whatever the prosecutor wants it be, and nobody is going to know except the prosecutors and those jurors.”
Distrust has built over the last three months, following clashes between protesters and police immediately after the shooting. Now, concerns are growing about how the Ferguson community and Wilson’s supporters will respond once a decision is announced. The FBI has said outright this week that it is “likely” that violence will follow.
Some of Wilson’s supporters have been almost agitating for a showdown. One raised money to purchase a billboard with the slogan, “Pants Up, Don’t Loot,” playing off the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” rallying cry of Ferguson protesters. A Missouri chapter of the KKK threatened “lethal force” against protesters.
That helps explain why the governor and local authorities have been preparing for what seems like a worst-case scenario. One particularly telling nugget: the Associated Press reported last week that schools will be told three hours in advance of the media when the grand jury has reached a decision.
All that is certain is that a killing that captured the nation’s attention is the dog days of summer is far from over as winter arrives.