ST LOUIS – Minutes before a police officer shot him dead, Michael Brown had become a suspect in the theft of cigars from a store, according to police reports released today after days of protests in a St Louis suburb over the unarmed black teenager’s death.
But the officer who shot Brown was unaware that the 18-year-old was a suspect in the robbery of the nearby convenience store, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said at a news conference.
Rather, Officer Darren Wilson, 28, shot and killed Michael Brown after he asked Brown to move out of the street onto a sidewalk, Jackson said.
“He was walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic. That was it,” Jackson said.
The decision by the police department, which is overwhelmingly white, to release a report on the robbery while keeping details of the shooting secret fuelled outrage that has roiled the St Louis area.
After identifying Wilson as the officer involved in the shooting, Jackson described the officer as a “gentleman” who is devastated over the situation. Wilson worked four of his six years as an officer on the Ferguson police force, the chief said.
“He never intended for any of this to happen,” Jackson said.
Wilson’s identify has been kept a secret since the August 9 shooting and authorities had been under mounting pressure to both identify the officer and to provide
details about the investigation to ease unrest in the largely black community.
Since Saturday’s killing, which took place shortly after noon on a street running through a quiet, tree-lined residential neighborhood, protesters have converged
on Ferguson, casting a spotlight on area racial tensions.
Civil rights groups have complained that Brown’s death is the latest in a long history of racial profiling and harassment by police, and discriminatory arrests.
Some residents saw the police report on the robbery as the latest example of the pattern.
“This is how the police operate here, they always defame the name of the victim,” said area resident 39-year-old Arthur Austin. “The more I hear, the less I trust what the police are saying.”
The Reverend Al Sharpton, president of the civil rights group National Action Network, which is paying for Brown’s funeral, issued a statement on Friday condemning what he called a “smear campaign” against Brown.
Sharpton said he would lead a rally in Ferguson on Sunday with Brown’s family, who expressed outrage at the police report in a statement on Twitter but did not address the allegation.
“There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands
up, which is the universal sign of surrender,” the statement said.
According to the account given by Jackson and the police reports his department released, police received a call about a robbery of cigars from a convenience store and an ensuing altercation with a clerk at 11:51 a.m. on August 9. A suspect description went out over police radio.
Officer Wilson left a prior call he was on and then encountered Brown at 12:01 p.m. Three minutes later Wilson had fatally shot Brown, and other officers and
an ambulance were dispatched to the scene, Jackson said.
Police incident reports written some time after the robbery state that Brown, and a 22-year-old friend, Dorian Johnson, were both suspects in the robbery. Johnson, who has given his own accounts of the shooting but has made no public mention of a robbery, was with Brown when he was killed.
The police chief said later today that Johnson was not complicit in any crime.