In Fer­gu­son, mun­dane choices lead to tragedy

The Financial Daily - - INTERNATIONAL -

Adam Geller and David B. Caruso

Michael Brown spent part of his last morn­ing chat­ting with some work­men about Je­sus. Po­lice of­fi­cer Dar­ren Wil­son got a call to help a fever­ish child. Do­rian John­son got up at 7 a.m. with the in­ten­tion of get­ting break­fast for his girl­friend.

It was a mun­dane start to a Satur­day, but by noon, all three had made a se­ries of wrong turns that led to Brown's death in a burst of gun­fire.

There are still parts of their story the pub­lic may never un­der­stand. Peo­ple look­ing for clear an­swers won't find them in the thou­sands of pages of tes­ti­mony, in­ter­views and other records re­leased by pros­e­cu­tors af­ter a grand jury de­cided not to in­dict Wil­son in Brown's death.

But the trove of doc­u­ments of­fers the most com­plete pic­ture yet of the key mo­ments where things went so wrong.

Brown, 18, and John­son, 22, had only known each other a few months when they bumped into each other in a park­ing lot out­side their Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, apart­ment build­ing, but they had awo­ken Aug. 9 with the same bad idea: Let's get high. All they needed were cigar­il­los to make a blunt.

"When I told him I was go­ing to get cigar­il­los, he was like, 'I need one, too. Let's walk to the store,'" John­son re­called in tes­ti­mony.

It took them awhile to get mov­ing. Brown - who'd re­cently taken to rap­ping about God - stopped to speak with a land­scaper who had been curs­ing about a chain saw that wouldn't start.

"He told me that the Lord Je­sus Christ would help me with my anger prob­lem," the worker later told the grand jury.

It got to be late morn­ing be­fore Brown and John­son started to­ward the mar­ket, about a half-mile away. John­son said they talked about their lives as they walked.

"He was telling me he was go­ing off to col­lege," John­son re­called.

Not far away, Wil­son, 28, was part­way through his 12-hour shift.

Dur­ing his five years as a po­lice of­fi­cer, he had never fired his weapon at an­other per­son. He had shot some­one once with a Taser, but he al­most never car­ried one. It was too bulky, he told the grand jury.

A dis­patcher re­layed a call for help with a sick 2-month-old baby.

"I'll be en route," Wil­son re­sponded. It was 11:47 a.m.

Min­utes later, Brown and John­son walked into Fer­gu­son Mar­ket & Liquor.

John­son told the grand jury that, at first, he thought he was be­ing pranked when Brown leaned over the counter and grabbed a hand­ful of cigar­il­los with­out pay­ing. The clerk in­ter­cepted Brown as he headed for the door. Brown, who weighed 289 pounds, shoved him away.

"It shocked me a lot," John­son said. "So I was ask­ing him, I was like, you know, ' Hey, I don't do stuff like that. What's go­ing on?'"

Brown told him to re­lax, John­son said.

"But in my head I'm like, I can't be calm. I can't be cool. Be­cause I know what just hap­pened, and we were on cam­era," John­son said.

A Fer­gu­son po­lice dis­patcher ra­dioed of­fi­cers at 11:53 a.m. that a theft was in progress, say­ing "He took a whole box of Swisher cigars."

John­son tes­ti­fied that Brown held the stolen cigar­il­los in plain view in his hands as the two walked in the cen­ter of the street.

Wil­son fin­ished his call to as­sist the sick baby. He ra­dioed to fel­low of­fi­cers: "Do you guys need me?" He got no re­ply. But as he drove down Can­field, he spot­ted the two men and pulled along­side.

"I told 'em, 'Hey guys, why don't you walk on the side­walk,'" Wil­son told an in­ves­ti­ga­tor the day af­ter the shoot­ing.

John­son said it was a ruder ex­change: "Get the f--- on the side­walk!"

Wil­son said he started to pull away, but shifted into re­verse when Brown cursed at him. He also ra­dioed for help.

Wil­son told the grand jury he said, "Hey, come here," to Brown, and tried to open his door. The of­fi­cer said Brown shoved it closed. The two men be­gan grap­pling through the win­dow.

Watch­ing from a few feet away, John­son said he felt par­a­lyzed.

"At the time I couldn't open my mouth, I couldn't speak. I wanted to say, ' could some­one calm down,'" he said.

Wil­son said Brown punched him in the face.

"I felt that an­other one of those punches in my face could knock me out or worse," the of­fi­cer tes­ti­fied.

The of­fi­cer drew his gun and threat­ened to shoot. He said Brown grabbed the firearm.

Wil­son squeezed off two shots. One struck Brown's hand. Brown bolted. Wit­nesses of­fered di­ver­gent ac­counts as to what hap­pened next. Some said the of­fi­cer chased Brown, fir­ing his gun as he ran. Oth­ers said the of­fi­cer held his fire and yelled at Brown to stop. By all ac­counts, the chase was brief. Brown stopped and turned to face the of­fi­cer.

Ac­cord­ing to Wil­son, Brown charged, paused briefly when he was hit by the of­fi­cer's fire, then kept com­ing. That ac­count was backed up by some wit­nesses.

"He has his arms bent to­wards his chest and he's run­ning like, you know, al­most like a tackle run­ning," said one wit­ness. "The of­fi­cer was back­ing up as he kept com­ing closer to him and he didn't stop."

But other by­standers said Brown sim­ply took a wob­bly step or two to­ward the po­lice­man, and never posed any real threat.

When Brown turned "he had the weird­est look on his face and he started com­ing for­ward. Not like he was go­ing to at­tack him. It's like he's com­ing to him like to (plead) with him to stop," said an­other wit­ness. "The of­fi­cer did say ' stop, stop, stop.' Well af­ter that third time, he let loose. He kept fir­ing. Un­til he hit the ground."

By the time Brown went down, twelve dis­charged car­tridge cases lay scat­tered.

Ar­riv­ing on the scene a few min­utes af­ter the shoot­ing, a po­lice sergeant tes­ti­fied that he found Wil­son sit­ting be­hind the wheel of the Ta­hoe, star­ing at the dash­board.

"I had to shoot him," Wil­son told him.

Or­di­nar­ily, the sergeant said, Wil­son would have been in­structed to wait at the scene un­til he could be in­ter­viewed. But as a crowd massed, the sergeant told him to go to the sta­tion.

Wil­son said he went into the bath­room, washed Brown's blood off of both his hands and sealed his gun in an ev­i­dence en­ve­lope. Cour­tesy- AP

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