Acts, Omissions, and What We Actually Know About the Ferguson PD and Mike Brown Case
Michael Brown is dead. This much we know. How and why he died at the hands of a Ferguson police officer, now identified as 6 year veteran of the force Darren Wilson, is still unclear.
The Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released some records “relating” to the case, but they primarily relate to an incident earlier in the day. The incident occurred at Ferguson Market and Liquor on West Florissant Avenue where they allege Brown and another man, Dorian Johnson, appeared to have stolen Swishers (packages of tobacco products). The location is some distance from where the fatal encounter occurred.
There are lots of discrepancies in the time line and facts proffered by the Ferguson PD. Where are the packages of Swishers that were allegedly stolen? If they weren’t on Brown, were they in Johnson’s possession (the friend who witnessed events)? The Department’s own statements say that Johnson isn’t a suspect and wont be charged, so that undermines the perception that Johnson was an accomplice of some kind of criminal act at the store.
As the STL Post Dispatch reports, the Ferguson Police Department isn’t charging Johnson:
In an interview with MSNBC shortly after the report was released, Johnson’s lawyer also said that Brown had taken cigars from the store.
“We see that there’s tape, that they claim they got a tape that shows there was some sort of strong-armed robbery,” the attorney, Freeman Bosley, told MSNBC. “We need to see that tape. My client did tell us and told the FBI that they went into the store. He told FBI that he did take cigarillos, he told that to the DOJ and the St. Louis County Police.”
Asked whether Dorian Johnson will be charged, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said today, “No. We determined he didn’t steal anything or use force.”
So, if the report claims that Brown handed something to Johnson, and Brown didn’t pay for it, then that would be a larceny, with Johnson the accomplice for receiving the property that didn’t belong to him. But they’re not charging him? In other words, the police report contains sufficient discrepancies that would undermine even the robbery claims against Brown.
But we again have to wonder why this police report was provided in lieu of any actual information about the Brown shooting. This response only adds to the confusion especially since Chief Jackson was busy claiming that the stop had nothing to do with any other criminal activities.
It’s worth noting that on Tuesday Chief Jackson told me Brown was not being stopped in relation to any criminal activity.
So, why now is the Ferguson PD appearing to “retcon” events to attempt to justify the shooting, by providing these details on an event that they’ve repeatedly asserted had nothing to do with why Officer Wilson shot Brown? It reeks of character assassination.
There are many questions remaining, including many that no one will ever be able to ask Brown, since he is now deceased:
- Why would/did Brown reach into the vehicle to grab a gun as the police allege?
- Why did the officer fire after Brown was already down and bleeding out?
- And why did the Ferguson PD not signal that there was a convenience store robbery and that Brown was a suspect before today?
Until this morning, the Department claimed that Brown was not a suspect in any other police activity. Now, via the police reports released to the public (but not to the highway patrol prior to this morning’s presser) they’re claiming he was the prime suspect in a convenience story petit larceny (which they’re calling a strong arm robbery of an amount that appears to be under $100 at that) but his friend who was with him at this time isn’t being charged.
The Department isn’t even trying to claim that the fatal stop was initiated because of a suspected robbery, which would have at least been a justifiable reason for the stop. Instead, the Department claimed only that the officer made a stop unrelated to any other incident because the duo were walking in the street.
So, for the moment we’ve got a questionable timeline, a police report that appears to have been a second version of events at the convenience store, and still omits key details from the day of the shooting and details regarding the actual shooting.
If you’re as confused about all this as I am, you’re not alone. The information being provided just doesn’t add up.
Note that I haven’t even begun to address the excessive force aspects.
Brown was shot multiple times, but the police haven’t revealed any further details to that end. Witnesses have indicated that there were multiple shots fired, including several that were after Brown was already bleeding and dying on the ground. This video, made of a witness to the events of the shooting, makes it clear that the officer went beyond merely engaging in self-defense by firing at Brown when he was already with his hands up and even after he was laying down on the ground after being hit by a fusillade of bullets (NSFW language warning).
Like much else that has come out of the Department, take any claims they make about Brown with a grain of salt. They have an institutional need to protect their own, and that includes denigrating Brown by linking him to a crime, even though the Department had indicated the stop was not made pursuant to any criminal acts.
Among the many problems with the Ferguson police, it would appear they’re policing based on skin color. Racial profiling, which goes back to statistics compiled by the Missouri Attorney General’s office shows that blacks are disproportionately stopped by Ferguson PD, even though whites have a higher contraband hit rate. And the rate of stops increases dramatically the further you get away from the interstate highway and on to local roads. Ferguson is hardly alone in departments that use racial profiling, but their actions are now coming under increased scrutiny for ongoing and systematic profiling.
Moreover, there’s good reason to distrust what the Department puts out. The Day Ferguson cops Were Caught in a Bloody Lie, highlights the malignant malfeasance at the Department, where they had no problem trumping up nonsensical charges against a wrongfully arrested individual whose only crime turned out to be having the same surname as a man with an outstanding warrant. Instead of releasing him, the Ferguson police beat the man, sending him to the hospital with lacerations and a concussion and then charged him 4 counts of property damage to their uniforms because he refused to bunk in an already occupied one-person cell.
In a court case stemming from that, the officers claimed that the events did and didn’t happen (engaging in either perjury or fraud, or both). This particular case is on appeal after the court found that the perjury was de minimis (which is laughable to begin with because there’s no such thing - the man’s rights and injuries were sufficient for damages to be awarded). The outcome of the appeal is likely to be influenced by the ongoing Brown case, but it also informs on just how stacked against justice the system is in Missouri and Ferguson specifically. This is far from an isolated case as well.
Almost everyone I’ve talked to in Ferguson has a story about the police department. And the story is never good.
The Department claims that Officer Wilson had a clean record, but it’s clear that the Department didn’t maintain any semblance of records worth the paper they’re written on excessive force for years before 2010; in fact, the officers themselves would write themselves up and no records were kept with the officer’s personnel file. So we only can assume that the last four years have been incident free (if that’s indeed the case). In other words, the problems with the Department run deep and hard. It’s a Department in serious trouble and they’re still operating in a fashion that requires serious reform.
And this brings me back to the excessive force used in not only the Brown case, but the subsequent policing of Ferguson in the wake of the shooting.
It was inexcusable for the Ferguson Police Department, let alone the St. Louis County Police to use the civil protests as an excuse to break out armored vehicles and heavily armed shock troops to intimidate a populace already reeling from the death of one of their own. Not only did the county police use officers in body armor, but they purposefully aimed loaded weapons at civil protesters and engaged in intimidation of journalists and the public. They unlawfully detained journalists who were in a McDonalds doing nothing more than their jobs of reporting on events in town.
It would come as no surprise that once the county police were called in that the protests became more violent. And the violence begat more violence. That’s why Gov. Jay Nixon belatedly called on the highway patrol to assume control over the situation. And despite the prosecutor in charge of the case arguing that the governor unlawfully interfered (and which itself shows the deep bias here), that one move defused the tensions more than anything else over the past week. The governor deescalated the situation by removing the police force that had initiated events with heavy-handed tactics.
So, this is where we’re at. The investigation into Brown’s death continues with a paucity of information all while engaging in character assassination of Brown through what the family considers piece-meal bits of information to justify their actions. Investigations should be opened into excessive force by the Ferguson police department and the St. Louis County police department for their actions before, during, and after the shooting.
This situation highlights the need for police departments to review all of their procedures regarding officer-involved shootings and excessive force cases. Departments should be more forthcoming about the details to the public, including a policy identifying the officers involved in a timely fashion. We cannot and should not accept departments hiding behind the Blue Line of silence when one of their own engages in wrong-doing.
It’s a more difficult question as who should investigate the cops who are involved in these situations. Not every department is large enough to have an internal affairs division or there’s not enough transparency to allow that self-investigation to occur. So, states and localities have to figure out a consistent method to handle these cases. It may mean that any case involving an officer-involved death automatically gets handled by the State Police (or if the state police is the agency involved, another designated agency within the jurisdiction). Prosecutors would come from the state AG office to handle.
But the process must be transparent. It’s the least we should expect and demand of law enforcement. They do a tremendously difficult job and the methodology of treating these cases shouldn’t be done on an ad hoc basis either. They deserve to know exactly how every single case will be handled.
It also minimizes the politicization of the cases by prosecutors, law enforcement, and politicians (and in some cases, there’s overlap since some law enforcement and legal positions are elected like county sheriffs, some prosecutors, attorneys general, etc.)
These are sensible measures, and states and localities should work to do this as soon as possible. It shouldn’t take deaths, protests, and riots, to focus attention on this longstanding problem. And we don’t even know the true scope of the problem since there’s no uniform statistics to count on. We need states and localities to require reporting all excessive force cases, along with statistics about officer-involved shootings and deaths while in police custody. The statistics can include details about those deaths occurring where the deceased had weapons in possession, were in the midst of committing crimes, etc., to separate those that are legitimate use of force incidents from those that appear to be excessive force instances (as appears to be the case in Ferguson).
But I get the sense that as the situation settles down in Ferguson, all too many will lose attention on this and the status quo will persist.
If anyone finds any of the information I posted incorrect or out of date, please post in the comments and I’ll correct. I tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but there’s so much information out there, some of it contradictory, that it was hard to try and develop a coherent narrative.
USA Today reporters went to try and interview Wilson, and found that he left town with his family.
The optics of that looks, well, not good. This is yet another sign of a police department that is in way over its head, and whose bad practices are being exposed to a greater degree with each passing hour.
Why wasn’t he told to stick around and that if the media come calling, for him to funnel everything through a lawyer (you have to assume he’s had time to go get one). He can’t and shouldn’t make statements, but the media will come a calling and he should be prepared for the fallout with a prepared statement that he is under investigation, the investigation will proceed, and he’s cooperating with the authorities, prosecutors, etc., and that he is sorry for the unfortunate death. Skipping town just looks bad.
This is PR101, but apparently no one involved with the FPD knows the first thing about crisis and damage control.
A clarification on which police force is conducting the investigation into the Brown death. It is the St. Louis County Police Department. The same one that heightened tensions with their inane display of weaponry and battle gear until they were called off by Gov. Nixon. The same County Police just won a suit against them for excessive force where a mentally ill man was subdued with a taser but died of cardiac arrest.
His mother had phoned 911, after Mr. De Boise, who was schizophrenic, demanded that she worship him, claiming he was God, and pressed her head down to the floor, according to court documents. Mr. De Boise kicked and swung his arms at the officers as they tried to subdue him.
“No reasonable officer, observing De Boise’s behavior, would have understood the actions taken to be so disproportionate and unnecessary as to amount to a violation of De Boise’s rights,” wrote Judge Bobby E. Shepherd of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2-1 majority.
“We’re pleased to have the court recognize that no reasonable officer would have thought after seeing the defendant that it was disproportionate or unnecessary to tase him,” said St. Louis County Counselor Patricia Redington. “We thought it was a good decision and a very sad case.”
The Eighth Circuit had previously held that “non-violent, non-fleeing” suspects have a clearly established right to be free from the use of Tasers.
Mr. De Boise’s family, including his two children, sued the officers in May 2010 for wrongful death, alleging they used excessive force. The officers “failed to simply hold Samuel down and handcuff him, particularly in light of the fact that he was naked and obviously delusional,” the lawsuit said.