CLAYTON • In grand jury testimony released Monday, Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson said that he felt he was authorized to use force against Michael Brown Jr. after Brown punched him twice in the face.
Wilson said he went for his gun because he thought that a third punch from Brown could have “knocked me out or worse.”
He also said that that even as he was running away, Brown could have posed a threat to officers responding to his initial call for help. “He still posed a threat, not only to me, to anybody else that confronted him.”
Wilson compared Brown to a demon during the struggle at Wilson's SUV. Despite Wilson's size, at 6 feet 4 inches and 210 pounds, he said that when grappling with Brown, he “felt like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” Brown was 6 feet 5 inches and 285 pounds, according to one autopsy.
Wilson said the he fired his gun twice in the car. He began shooting again after Brown ran away, stopped, turned and began coming for Wilson, with his left hand clenched at his side and his right hand under his shirt, at his waistband.
Wilson's testimony about an encounter that he estimated lasted less than a minute was among thousands of pages of documents released by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney's office after the grand jury decision was announced. The names of most witnesses were redacted.
On Friday, the grand jury heard from a final witness: a homicide detective who investigated the shooting. They then asked to hear an FBI recording of a witness who recorded parts of the shooting, and then received their instructions. Deliberations presumably would have begun then if not for one final piece of evidence that they requested: the full, written report from Michael Baden, the forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy at the request of Brown's family. That report was not to be available until Monday at noon.
In that last day of testimony, the grand jury asked detailed questions of the detective, down to the degree of foliage that might have obscured some witnesses' views of the shooting. The jurors showed a keen interest in whether Brown could be perceived as a threat under the law even if he was unarmed. They questioned Wilson's account carefully, asking about slight differences between what he told police and what he testified to. And they asked how detectives could have a complete investigation if there were only two people who witnessed everything that happened that day and one of them was dead.
One juror asked the detective whether Wilson told police why he pursued Brown out of the vehicle. "What was his justification? I know what he told you (sic) us, I'd be interested in what he told you?"
At another point, a juror asked whether Wilson told police he believed Brown was armed. The juror asked whether Wilson specifically mentioned seeing a weapon. The detective said no.
Assistant prosecuting attorney Kathi Alizadeh prompted the detective, asking whether the detective recalled Wilson saying he saw Brown's hand go to his waistband.
"He did say that, yes," the detective said.
Alizadeh: "But he never said that he saw a weapon?"
"Correct. Just in terms of seeing a weapon, no, he never indicated that he saw one," the detective said.
Alizadeh: "Did he ever tell you that he thought Michael Brown was going for a weapon?"
"In the sense that Darren Wilson is making reference to Michael Brown putting his right hand, he described it as he put his right hand in his waistband and then started coming towards Darren Wilson," the detective said.
The detective then went on to describe how Wilson saw Brown reach toward his waistband, then take several charging strides without slowing.
One juror asked the detective whether Brown's waistband was bloody, as one would expect if he had reached toward it with a bloody hand. The detective said Brown's shirt and shorts were "very bloody."
A juror also asked whether Brown's attorney was present for his statements to police. The detective confirmed an attorney was present.
In another exchange that offers a glimpse into jurors' thinking, someone asked about what can be considered a threat to a law enforcement officer under the law.
"This officer felt he was in danger of being beaten to death sitting in his car, you could almost say there was a weapon involved at that point, that's where I'm confused a little bit. I understand no weapon in the form of a pistol or a handgun, if you are in danger, that your life was in danger that you are being beaten to death, is there a weapon or not?" the juror said.
The detective said someone's hands could be considered a weapon. Alizadeh reminded the jurors that they would receive the full instructions of what justifies use of deadly force under the law.
Another juror asked: "…I just want to get back to the basics of what happened or see what happened. Necessarily walking down the middle of the street is not that big of a deal, but when it got to the point, I've heard it described as a tussle, a struggle and everything like that, so when a citizen and a police officer are in a tussle, that's a crime by the person tussling with the police officer?"
Alizadeh again reminded jurors that they would get full instructions on the law.
"Just in case you don't come back, I need this for me," a juror interjected. "When starting your investigation after you already interviewed officer Wilson, okay. You heard A of the story, there's A and B, but B is deceased."
The juror asked whether the narrative and investigation would then be shaped to fit A's account.
"Absolutely not," the detective responded.
"In the initial phase of an investigation, it's simply to, I'm summarizing here, it is simply to find as many witnesses as we can and gather the facts. There is no skewing to one side or to the other. It's essentially locate witnesses, obtain their statements from them, and it is to gather the evidence at the scene. And then in this particular instance, right, I present it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the grand jury, and you can make the decisions from there. But there is no skewing one side either way, okay."
In his testimony, Wilson said that Brown's unexpectedly vulgar response to a request to get on the sidewalk drew his attention and made him realize that Brown was one of the suspects mentioned in a stealing call minutes before.
In response to questions by a prosecutor later in his testimony, Wilson said that he was already on high alert, both because of Brown's response and because the Canfield Green apartments are an “anti-police area” and a “hostile environment.”
He also said that he pictured the “use of force triangle” that he'd learned in the police academy during the struggle in the car. Wilson said that after he was hit the first time, “I was going through the progression of what I could do as far as the use of force continuum is concerned."
He told jurors that he carries pepper spray and a collapsible baton, but couldn't grab either without leaving his face open to another attack. He also couldn't use the pepper spray without potentially blinding himself. He said that he did not usually elect to carry a Taser, due to its bulk.
A juror asked why Wilson didn't simply drive away.
“My thought is, I was still dealing with a threat at my car,” Wilson responded. “You know, we're trained not to run away from a threat, to deal with a threat and that is what I was doing. That never entered my mind to flee."
After Wilson tried to get out, and Brown slammed the door on him twice, Wilson said Brown punched him twice in the face.
Wilson pulled his gun, and said he warned Brown, “Get back or I'm going to shoot you.” Brown, he said, then grabbed his gun and said, “You are too much of a (expletive) to shoot me.”
During a struggle for the gun, Wilson said Brown tried to pull the trigger as the gun was against Wilson's hip. Wilson pushed the gun away and fired twice, causing Brown to run away.
Wilson followed, telling jurors that he was trying to keep Brown in sight long enough for other officers to arrive.
He claimed that he ordered Brown to “get on the ground” twice.
But, he told the grand jurors, Brown instead “Made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he's coming back towards me. His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does like stutter step to start running.”
Wilson said that Brown's left hand was balled in a fist at his side. His right hand, Wilson said, was under his shirt at his waistband.
He said he began backpedaling as Brown kept coming.
Wilson said that he fired a series of shots again, and Brown flinched again.
“At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I'm shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn't even there, I wasn't even anything in his way.”
Wilson said that he was still backing up and Brown was eight to 10 feet away when he began leaning forward as if he was going to tackle him. He saw the final, fatal shot hit Brown, and told jurors, “the demeanor on his face went blank, the aggression was gone” as Brown fell on his face and his momentum caused his feet to fly up in the air.
Two other officers arrived seconds later, and Wilson soon left in his sergeant's car, after refusing to sit by himself. “I said, 'Sarge, I cant be singled out. It is already getting hostile, I can't be singled out in the car.'”
Dorian Johnson was with Brown when the confrontation with Wilson occurred. His testimony followed what he initially told media outlets just after Brown's death, but it's clear prosecutors were asking questions to contrast his story to the physical evidence.
He said Wilson cursed at him and Brown to get out of the street as the pair were walking on Canfield. He knew an employee of Ferguson Market and Liquor had called police because Brown stole a box of cigarillos, but didn't know whether Wilson was stopping them for that reason.
After stopping them, Johnson maintains that Wilson reached for Brown's neck and pulled him toward the car. As they struggled Brown was getting the better of Wilson.
"I'm hearing cuss words from both of them, but I don't really hear the officer saying you know, stop or get down on the ground."
The prosecutor asked Johnson how Wilson could have had such a strong grip on Brown to keep him from pulling away from the car.
"He (Wilson) looked like he was solid muscle," Johnson said.
Johnson testified that Brown's hands never entered the vehicle. Brown was outside the car when the first shot was fired, Johnson said.
Johns said Brown ran from Wilson and Wilson shot at Brown's back. He saw Brown flinch as if he was hit. Brown then stopped and turned around.
"He was taking a step toward the officer to show him that he didn't have anything," Johnson said. "His hand was up, so he is showing the officer, 'I don't have a weapon on me.'"
Johnson said Wilson continued shooting at Brown until the 18-year-old stumbled and fell to the ground.
WITNESS WHO SAW CHARGE
One unnamed male witness who was working at a redacted location near the shooting provided an account that aligned closely with Wilson’s.
He said that he did not see Wilson fire his gun at Brown while he was fleeing.
Brown stopped and turned, the witness said, and “did some sort of body gesture. I’m not sure what it was, but I know it was a body gesture.”
“And I could say for sure he never put his hands up,” the witness said.
“Immediately after he did his body gesture, he came for force, full charge at the officer,” he said.
He said Wilson fired five or six shots, and Brown kept coming toward him, giving the witness the impression none of the shots hit Brown, though he said Brown flinched at some point. He said Brown slowed and came to a stop, and Wilson stopped shooting. About two seconds passed, and, Brown charged forward again, the witness said, and Wilson fired more shots, and Brown collapsed.
Some witnesses gave the grand jury a picture of the encounter between Wilson and Brown that varied considerably from that of witnesses who spoke with local and national media.
One man who said he was on his way through Canfield Green apartments saw Wilson and Brown struggling at the car. Brown was punching Wilson through the window, and it looked like Wilson’s right hand was going for his gun. Each was holding on to the other. Then he heard a shot, and saw Brown take off running.
Wilson got out of the car, and Brown ran a few carlengths away, then put his hands on a gold car. He stayed there for a minute or two while Wilson trotted forward. The witness said he saw Brown walking two to three steps toward Wilson before the witness turned away and heard several gunshots.
GRAND JURY INSTRUCTIONS
In their final instructions Friday, jurors were told they had to find two things: probable cause that Wilson committed any of the five possible offenses, and probable cause that he did not act in self defense.
They were given the statutes for all five potential crimes, ranging from second degree involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder. They were also given the "justifications" that at trial could serve as a defense to those crimes: self-defense and justified use of force by a law enforcement officer. Lastly, they were provided with the statute for assault on a law enforcement officer.
Prosecutors did not guide jurors much on the statutes themselves — at least not from what is apparent from the transcripts.
But they did point out a legal quirk that jurors would have to navigate: Missouri's law for use of force is not consistent with a guiding U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the matter.
That U.S. Supreme Court case, Tennessee vs. Garner, says that an officer using deadly force against a fleeing felon must have probable cause that the felon poses a significant risk of harm to the officer or the community.
Missouri's deadly force law says that deadly force is justified if it is needed to immediately effect an arrest and if the felon has done one of the following:
• has committed or attempted to commit a felony OR
• is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon OR
• may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious injury unless arrested without delay
The "or" between each of those clauses is important. Ostensibly, under Missouri law, an officer could use deadly force only if it is needed to make the arrest of someone who has committed or attempted to commit a felony. But that's not what the nation's top court has ruled.
Prosecutors, in trying to explain this discrepancy to jurors, provided them with "a statement of the law" that tracked the relevant part of Missouri statute but also conformed to the Supreme Court ruling.
Alizadeh told them to take the copy of Missouri law that was provided to them at the start of the grand jury process and to fold it in half.
"What we have discovered, and (sic) we have been going along with this, doing our own research, is that the statute in Missouri does not comply with the case law."
Of the portion that does not conform, she said, "Ignore it totally."
When jurors started asking more technical questions, Alizadeh told them just to disregard the statute.
"We don't want to get into a law class," chimed in Sheila Whirley, the second prosecutor on the case.
Prosecutors also told jurors what to do if they decided Wilson should be charged, but couldn't reach nine votes in agreement on which charge applied.
"If you have nine people that vote indict on anything, then there will be an indictment," Alizadeh said. "What that indictment is we will deal with if that happens, but there was some question, well, is it kind of like a hung jury if we all can't agree on the charge. No."
Stephen Deere, Jeremy Kohler, Jennifer S. Mann, Robert Patrick and Walker Moskop of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.