Religion & Liberty Online

Ferguson Police Officer Exonerated in the Shooting of Michael Brown

ferguson-shootingSince last August, federal prosecutors and civil rights investigators have been investigating whether the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson was a civil rights violation. In an 86-page report released Wednesday, the Justice Department cleared the officer of any criminal wrongdoing or violation of civil rights in the shooting. Here are some highlights from that report.

• FBI agents independently canvassed more than 300 residences to locate and interview additional witnesses. Federal investigators also collected cell phone data, searched social media sites, and followed up on tips from citizens in order to investigate all sources of information. (p. 4)

• “The evidence, when viewed as a whole, does not support the conclusion that Wilson’s use of deadly were “objectively unreasonable” under the Supreme Court’s definition.” (p. 5)

• The investigation uncovered forensic evidence that confirms Brown reached into the police officer’s vehicle and punched and grabbed Wilson. Brown also grabbed Wilson’s firearm and attempted to wrestle control of it from the police officer, suffering a bullet wound to the hand during the altercation and leaving DNA evidence inside the vehicle. (p. 6).

• Brown was not shot in the back and there is no evidence he was shot while running away. Brown ran 180 feet away before turning back and advancing on Wilson. Wilson fired a total of 12 shots, 2 in the vehicle and 10 on the roadway, but only hit Brown 6-8 times, including the shot to the hand. Brown fell to the ground with his uninjured hand balled up in his waistband. (Wilson testified he thought Brown was reaching into his waistband for a weapon.) Evidence proves that Wilson did not touch Brown’s body after the shooting. (p. 7)

• All credible witnesses established that Brown was moving toward Wilson—“charging”, “moving slowly,” “running,” etc.—when he was shot. Although some witnesses state Brown held his hands up at shoulder level with his palms facing outward for a brief moment, these same witnesses describe Brown as dropping his hands and “charging” Wilson. (p. 8)

• Within 12 minutes of the shooting, some members of the growing crowd became increasingly hostile in response to chants of “[W]e need to kill these mother****ers,” referring to the police officers on the scene. Gunfire was reported in the area within an hour of the Wilson-Brown incident. Crime scene detectives had to stop processing the scene an hour later when reports of what sounded like automated weapons gunfire in the area and individuals in the crowd encroaching on the scene chanting “Kill the Police.” (This was documented on cell phone video.) (p. 8)

• Wilson’s account of the incident was consistent with the autopsy, DNA evidence, ballistic results, and eyewitness accounts. (p. 9)

• Several witnesses who saw the shooting and stated that it was justified initially refused to cooperate because they feared reprisals by their neighbors for corroborating Wilson’s account. One of those witnesses claims Wilson told Brown to “stop” or “get down” at least ten times, but Brown refused. Another one of the scared witnesses later told investigators “a lot of people saw that it was justified” and “I know police get a bad rap, but they are here to protect us.” (p. 32-33)

• The evidence establishes that the shots fired by Wilson after Brown turned around were in self-defense. No credible witnesses testified that Brown was shot while attempting to surrender. According to the report, “The media has widely reported that there is witness testimony that Brown said ‘don’t shoot as he held his hands above his head. In fact, our investigation did not reveal any eyewitnesses who stated that Brown said ‘don’t shoot.’” (p. 82)

• The report concludes: “Because Wilson did not act with the requisite criminal intent, it cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt to a jury that he violated 18 USC 242 when he fired his weapon at Brown. For the reasons set forth, this matter lacks prosecutive merit and should be closed.”

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).