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Police Chief Claims Shooting Victim May Have Been Involved in Robbery, But Says Cop Who Fired Shots Didn't Know About It

Confusion reigns in Ferguson after a quiet night.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Light Brigading/Flickr

 
 
 
 

The police officer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager in the Missouri city of Ferguson,  sparking days of protests and violent clashes, was named on Friday. But police also released security camera footage and an incident report that implicated the victim, 18-year-old Michael Brown, in an earlier robbery at a convenience store, infuriating his family and prompting concerns of new tensions in the area.

The Browns’ attorney said they were “beyond outraged” by the revelation, which came unaccompanied by any further details of the shooting. The family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, described the report as a “brutal assassination” of Brown’s character.

In a further development, police later disclosed that the officer who shot Brown was not even aware of the robbery, which had taken place a few minutes earlier. Ferguson’s local police chief, Thomas Jackson, was pressured to explain why the information about the robbery had been released at the same time. Crump accused police of playing a game of “smoke and mirrors”.

Jackson identified the officer who shot Brown as Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the city police department. He said that Wilson had a clean disciplinary record before the shooting on Saturday.

The disclosure brought an end to wide-ranging speculation and rumour that residents said was stoking disgruntlement. Several names had previously been published online and circulated locally, forcing police to issue denials.

The refusal to disclose any further information about the shooting of Brown, combined with the revelation of a partial account of events that allegedly preceded it, threatened to revive hostilities in a town where protests  gave way to a carnival-like atmosphere on Thursday night.

A brief section in the incident report tied the robbery to Brown’s killing, which it said was “worth mentioning”. The report read: “In that incident, Brown was fatally wounded involving an officer of this department.” No further details of the killing were offered.

Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri state highway patrol, who won plaudits for his handling of the demonstrations after being handed control on Thursday, said he “would have liked to have been consulted” about the simultaneous release of the report of the name and alleged robbery.

“The information could have been put out in a different way,” Johnson told reporters and residents at a press conference that unfolded more like a town hall meeting on Friday. “I would have communicated it differently,” he told the Guardian afterwards.

The disagreement over Friday’s decision highlighted the overlapping jurisdictions of the law enforcement agencies involved. The robbery report was released by Ferguson city police, the force that employs the officer who shot Brown, which has come under sharp criticism for not reflecting the racial makeup of the city, which is majority African American.

The inquiry into the shooting is being led by St Louis County police, which led the policing of the demonstrations over Brown’s death through several nights of violent clashes, before being relieved by Nixon on Thursday. Control of the security for protests was handed to Johnson and the state highway patrol, whose dramatic shift in tactics away from a hardline response was credited with allowing the calmer atmosphere on Thursday night.

Nonetheless, residents expressed fury at Johnson on Friday over the actions of the separate city police force. “There’s a lot of evidence come out about [Brown’s] character, and what he was before the shooting,” said Carl Walter, 38. “Why is there not the same transparency about this officer? This young man lost his life.”

Governor Jay Nixon conceded at the same press conference that “certain things should have come out sooner than they did later”.

 
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